ATLANTA – The only fitting result would have been a photo finish.
Earlier in the day, CBSSports.com reported that Arkansas coach John Pelphrey had posed for a picture with Sherwood (Ark.) Sylvan Hills juniors Archie Goodwin and Trey Smith during a high school tournament in December. Goodwin, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, is the nation's No. 18 prospect in the 2012 recruiting class.
One problem: The NCAA prohibits off-campus face-to-face contact between a coach and a recruit who is in his junior year of high school.
"We're certainly very sensitive to those things," Pelphrey said. "We take all that stuff very seriously. It will be looked into with regard to our compliance people. We'll certainly cooperate and be forthcoming."
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl had his own photo-related problems last summer, as his eight-game suspension earlier this season resulted in part from the release of a photograph that showed current Ohio State freshman guard Aaron Craft in Pearl's home in the fall of 2008, when Craft was a high school junior. The photo itself didn't hurt Pearl as much as the revelation that he lied to NCAA officials during the investigation.
"We became aware of a potential compliance issue this morning regarding contact with prospective men's basketball student-athletes," Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said in a statement released by the university Thursday afternoon. "If the facts are as we understand them to be at this time, it would appear to be a secondary violation. Before making any final determination, we will certainly take the appropriate time to review all of the facts and then act appropriately."
The allegation put even more pressure on a coach who already was occupying the hottest seat in the SEC. Pelphrey is 69-59 in his four seasons with the Hogs and hasn't reached the NCAA tournament since his debut season.
A quarter-page advertisement critical of Pelphrey ran in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state's largest paper, two weeks ago.
Arkansas' incoming five-man freshman class includes three top-100 recruits in 6-3 point guard B.J. Young (No. 18), 6-5 guard Ky Madden (No. 27) and 6-10 forward Hunter Mickelson (No. 98). The arrival of that group could help Pelphrey deliver a breakthrough season – if he keeps his job long enough to coach those guys.
Arkansas (18-13) could earn a trip to the NIT, but speculation on the Razorbacks' future will focus more on Pelphrey's job status than the team's postseason plans.
"We're talking about our team tonight, and we're talking about the SEC tournament," Pelphrey said when asked whether he'd done enough to keep his job. "There will be a time for that reflection here at some point in time."
That time is drawing near.