Today is expected to be the day. Finally.
Since December, the University of Tennessee has been expecting to receive an official letter of allegations from the NCAA. Fans have waited. UT officials and coaches have waited (and their worries have grown the longer they’ve waited). And we in the media have waited.
If Tennessee does in fact release the contents of the NCAA’s communication today, here are some the things to pay attention to:
1. Are the words “lack of institutional control” listed at any point in the letter? Those are nightmarish words for programs. With three programs under investigation at once, it is a possibility that the NCAA will make that charge in UT’s case. Usually, that charge is reserved for cases involving major violations, such as paying players, etc. But if the NCAA feels that Tennessee’s athletic department was not compliant as a whole and that it hindered the body’s investigation — we know Bruce Pearl did, but what of everyone else? — then the NCAA could haul out the “lack of institutional control charge” in order to deliver a more serious spanking.
2. Will the NCAA handle Tennessee’s issues separately or lump them all together? When the allegations are made, we’ll all have a better handle on how the NCAA views the missteps in football, basketball and baseball. It’s best for Tennessee if the NCAA handles each sport separately. If the they, however, look at three programs and determine that the entire athletic department has run amok, then it leads back to the point #1 on this list. The way the allegations are listed should give everyone an idea of how the penalty phase might eventually be handled.
3. How many violations are listed in connection with the football program under Lane Kiffin? Word is out that the football program will be cited. But will that citation be for the Hostessgate scandal alone? Will Ed Orgeron’s alleged illegal workout of a high school player be included? Are there any other surprise violations that might crop up? First things first, Derek Dooley is working shorthanded to rebuild the Vols’ football program. Scholarship limitations at this point would set him and his staff back further. Again, that’s a nightmare scenario for UT. But how often Kiffin and ex-aides Orgeron and David Reaves are mentioned will also be important to the overall outcome of the NCAA’s investigation. Remember, for any allegations involving those ex-coaches, UT will have to go before the NCAA and those coaches will have to go before the NCAA. Everyone will get a chance to respond to (and deny) the charges made against them. Kiffin, Orgeron and Reaves could possibly slow down UT’s process.
4. How much will baseball be mentioned? It’s believed the UT baseball program will only have one secondary charge leveled against it. But if something more pops up, it could be bad news for Vol athletic director Mike Hamilton. If — and again this is not expected — but if baseball coach Todd Raleigh is singled out as being involved in a violation, it would mean three coaches (Pearl, Kiffin and Raleigh) hired by Hamilton have all knowingly broken NCAA rules.
5. How much heat could this cause for UT’s AD? If three of his coaches are slapped around, it could cause plenty. If the violations in football and basketball are more serious than expected, it could cause plenty. Bruce Pearl’s job is very much connected to Hamilton’s. The two are planning to march arm-and-arm into whatever future the NCAA lays out for them. But if the program (and its key boosters) are hit with surprisingly bad allegations from the NCAA, Hamilton’s job could be in jeopardy. And Pearl might not have him around to protect him.
The letter of allegations is just the first step in the process. Tennessee will have 90 days to respond to the accusations and multiple reports already say the Vols will go before the NCAA in mid-June.
Once UT goes to Indianapolis for those “hearings,” the NCAA can then take a couple of months more to decide on what penalties to hand down. Those could come anywhere from July to October, though it’s likely the NCAA would try to had out the basketball penalties before the start of next season.
Once the NCAA hands down its penalties — as it did with UConn’s basketball program yesterday — the school will have a chance to appeal… which would drag things out even further.
The news on UConn provided Tennessee with some potential good news and bad news.
On the positive side, the NCAA’s decision to suspend Jim Calhoun for three Big East games next year is being credited as a follow-up to Mike Slive’s 8-game suspension of Bruce Pearl. If that’s the case, then Vol fans can hope that Slive is so tuned into the NCAA’s processes that his suspension of Pearl will prevent the NCAA from handing out a much longer suspension to their hoops coach.
On the negative side, ex-assistant Beau Archibald — who resigned last year — was given a two-year “show cause” penalty which means other schools must convince the NCAA to allow them to hire him. That’s basically a ban for the ex-UConn assistant. (FYI — Former Oklahoma and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson was hit with a five-year show cause ban.)
Why should that concern Tennessee? Archibald was accused of lying to NCAA investigators on two occasions. The Vols’ Pearl is known to have misled investigators at least once. And Pearl wasn’t forced to resign as Archibald was. What we don’t know, of course, is how similarly the NCAA will view the cases of Pearl and Archibald. One allegedly misled officials twice and never came clean. The other misled investigators once and then reportedly came clean on his own.
When the allegations are made public, the story will spin in a couple of directions:
1. Will these allegations at Tennessee cost Kiffin his job at Southern Cal?
2. Are these allegations serious enough to lead to the ousters of Pearl and/or Hamilton at Tennessee?
Judging from the reaction to Calhoun’s suspension, here’s guessing that the national media will say that Pearl must go. Most have been saying that from Day One. While the talking heads haven’t screamed for the more popular Calhoun’s noggin, questions have already been raised as to how the NCAA can hand out long suspensions to players and then smack Calhoun with nothing more than a three-game ban.
Problem is, they are actually smacking Calhoun with more than a three-game ban. His program will lose a scholarship for three years. His program will have recruiting restrictions placed on it. And his program will serve three-years probation meaning any rogue booster could completely unravel all that he’s built. The NCAA has nothing but the power to suspend when it comes to players. With coaches, the NCAA can impact their programs for years. So when you hear that “players versus coaches” argument thrown out (about Calhoun, Pearl or any other coach) know that the thrower-outers of such comments probably don’t understand the phrase “apples and oranges.”
Regardless of what Pearl and Tennessee are eventually hit with in the penalty phase, you can be sure that Vol fans will claim the penalties to be too extreme and everyone else will say UT got off light. Well, unless the Vols get bombed like Southern Cal… and that’s not expected to happen.
At least not yet. We’ll know more when the notice of allegations is finally released.