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Tennessee Barbecue Ad Gets Ohio State Compliance Involved

Bruce PearlWhat could be more appropriate over a long holiday weekend than a barbecue story?  This one involves a Knoxville restaurant chain that’s left a bitter taste at Ohio State.

The ingredients here go back to 2008 and the infamous barbecue hosted by former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl.  One of the people in attendance that fateful day was future Ohio State basketball player Aaron Craft, who was being recruited by the Vols at the time.  A picture of Craft at Pearl’s house later surfaced, the NCAA got involved and Pearl, in essence, wound up getting fired for lying about it.

Fast forward to present day and a radio ad done for Calhoun’s, a Knoxville barbecue chain.  In the commercial, Steven Pearl, son of Bruce, says ”If there’s one thing we Pearls know, it’s how to throw a barbecue,” and later adds, ”absolutely no photography.”  But the trouble comes in the disclaimer, where a separate voice says, “Offer not available to Aaron Craft.”

Using a student-athlete’s name or likeness is an NCAA no-no and that’s when Ohio State stepped in.   “We have taken the necessary steps with all parties involved to alleviate any potential NCAA issues. Aaron Craft’s eligibility was never in danger. He had no knowledge nor provided consent,” said Ohio State associate athletic director of compliance Doug Archie.

What that likely involved was a “cease-and-desist” letter and presumably the ad will never run again.  But, of course, the amount of free media attention the ad generated has far exceeded whatever budget the campaign had.  Like many things in life, it’s far better to ask forgiveness than permission.

 

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NCAA Talks Tennessee; Ex-Coaches React

Why did Bruce Pearl and his assistants get hammered while Tennessee escaped further penalties?  It all came down to how they dealt with NCAA investigators.

“The cooperation the institution demonstrated in this case is in stark contrast to the conduct and failures of the former men’s basketball staff,” the NCAA’s report reads.

It has long been believed that Pearl lied to NCAA investigators about a photo of himself and then-recruit Aaron Craft that was taken at his home.  But according to today’s report, the coach did not admit to even having recruits at his home in the first place.  That may seem obvious, but in the NCAA’s eyes, it likely made Pearl’s lie appear a little bit bigger lie than most initially believed.  Not only did he not come clean about a photo, he was given every opportunity to come clean about the barbecue, but he chose not to.

During a teleconference this afternoon, the NCAA made the following points clear:


* Pearl provided false and misleading information to the NCAA

* He told three junior recruits and their families that being at his home was a violation and he encouraged them to keep quiet on the matter

* Pearl did not tell Tennessee officials about the violation and, obviously, he didn’t report it to the NCAA

* Pearl called the father of Craft in an attempt to get the man to help cover up the barbecue


All this over what would have been a secondary violation had he simply reported the matter to UT’s compliance office.  Pearl’s saga is truly Nixonian in scope.

The coach was hit with a three-year show cause ban.  If any school tries to hire him in the next three years, that school will have to explain itself to the NCAA and/or agree to suffer penalties just for hiring Pearl.

Pearl’s three ex-aides were given one-year show cause bans because they were not forthcoming in their interviews with the NCAA and because they shared information from their interviews with Pearl, after being told not to do so.

Amazingly, the attorney for Tennessee’s former assistant coaches has told The Knoxville News Sentinel that “people might always wonder what would have happened without the NCAA enforcement staff’s erroneous charge of a bump violation.”

Ah, the bump.  Shortly after Pearl and Tennessee announced their troubles to the world last fall, Pearl and assistant coach Tony Jones allegedly violated the bump rule with a prospect at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.  This was classified as a “major” violation in the NCAA’s official list of accusations against the school.  Their obvious reasoning was that since Pearl had just come clean, for him to violate another secondary rule and not turn it in amounted to a major violation.

The University of Tennessee chose to dismiss Pearl after learning of this violation.  But in the NCAA’s report today, the bump was not mentioned at all.

“The committee found no violation at all regarding the supposed recruiting bump which received so much attention,” the coaches’ attorney said.  “The speculation is what would have happened had that not come out, because the university knew everything else in the report.  That (bump) seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, in terms of the coaches’ job security.”

Seeing as how the NCAA smacked Pearl with a three-year ban and his assistants with one-year bans, it’s safe to assume that all four men would have been unemployed by the end of today anyway.

This “what about the bump” push is nothing more than a red herring.  As it turns out, Pearl’s lie was greater than anyone had known and the NCAA was clearly not pleased with the lies and cover-up orchestrated by him and his staff.  They were going to get spanked.  Firing all of them likely spared Tennessee from getting a spanking of it own.

On the football front, the NCAA wasn’t pleased with the work of Lane Kiffin and his assistants during their lone year in Knoxville.

“… The committee was troubled by the number and nature of the secondary infractions by the football coaching staff during its one-year tenure at the institution.  From January 2009 through October 2009 the staff committed 12 violations, all connected to recruiting.  This is not a record of which to be proud.”

Since, however, the violations were secondary in nature and “isolated,” no major penalties were handed down for football.

In the end, the NCAA decided to accept the 20 different sanctions either self-imposed or handed down by the SEC.  (In other words, the Vol fans who railed against Mike Slive’s 8-game suspension of Pearl last season need to realize that the commish was actually doing UT a favor… as we at MrSEC.com stated at the time.)

Tennessee will face two years of probation and could face “repeat violator” status if found guilty of any violations between now and August 24th, 2016.

“The Committee on Infractions advises the institution that it should take every precaution to ensure that the terms of the penalties are observed.  Any action by the institution contrary to the terms of any of the penalties or any additional violations shall be considered grounds for extending the institution’s probationary period or imposing more severe sanctions or may result in additional allegations and findings of violations.”

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Ex-Vol Aide Jones Says Lawyers Kept Coaches From Sharing Info With NCAA

When asked about a grainy photo of Bruce Pearl and then-prospect Aaron Craft, Tennessee assistant coaches Tony Jones, Jason Shay and Steve Forbes didn’t offer up much in the way of information about the photo.

Asked if the photo was taken in Pearl’s home, they said they couldn’t tell.  One suggested the shot could’ve been Photoshopped.

Shay’s wife was in the photo, but the assistant didn’t point that out to investigators.

Why?

“(Attorney) Michael Glazier advised all of us coaches to just answer the questions that were being asked and do not elaborate on anything,” Jones told Mike Griffith of The Knoxville News Sentinel.  “The question that was posed to me was, did I recognized where this grainy photo of Bruce Pearl and Aaron Craft was taken; there was a microwave in the background.  We have a microwave in the Pratt Pavilion, where Aaron was also around Bruce, so I could not say for certain that the picture was taken at Bruce’s house.  I was being truthful, and I answered the question to the best of my recollection.”

Jones also states that he was “never charged with lying to the committee or unethical conduct.”  Instead he was hit with “not being forthcoming.”

Ah.

At this point, it’s probably best for Jones, Shay and Forbes to stop talking about their takedown.  Whether he’s telling the truth or not, there aren’t 10 people who are going to read Jones’ latest statement and believe that he really couldn’t tell and didn’t know where a photo was taken.

Jones isn’t the first ex-UT coach to toss some blame at UT’s counsel.  Pearl’s attorney said that Tennessee’s lawyer didn’t reveal the photo to the coaches until moments before their meetings with investigators… despite having known about the photo for days.  And at least one other ex-assistant has said off the record that Glazier told the coaches not to volunteer — no pun intended — too much information.

But as we asked last month, why would an attorney who specializes in NCAA cases try to undermine UT’s coaches in anyway?  Remember, the school chose to stand by Pearl and crew long after their meetings with investigators.

We’re not buying any conspiracy theories on this one.  And as much as UT’s ex-coaches want to clear their names and spin things into a more positive direction, they’d be best zipping their lips and moving forward with their lives.  This isn’t a PR battle that they can win at this point.  Fair or not.

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Pearl Attorney: Tennessee Didn’t Warn Coach Soon Enough About Photo. Why?

Last summer, NCAA officials told University of Tennessee officials that they had a photo of Bruce Pearl standing with a recruit.  They wanted to ask the coaching staff about that picture.  But according to the attorney for Pearl, UT didn’t pass that information along to him or his staff until the day of their initial interview with the NCAA.

At the interview with investigators, Pearl lied, saying that the photo of himself and Aaron Craft — now at Ohio State — was not taken at his home.  His assistants used plausible deniability to dodge the question.  And the rest is history.

Last week, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Tennessee outside counsel Mike Glazier knew of the photograph a full six days before the meeting.  Since then, the paper has tried to determine why Pearl and his staff were not told of the photo when Glazier and the school learned of its existence.

“Attempts to obtain clarification from Glazier on Monday were unsuccessful,” writes The Sentinel’s Mike Strange.  “UT did not elaborate.”

“We will let the response speak for itself and won’t be commenting further,” a Tennessee spokesperson said. 

Pearl and his ex-aides aren’t talking either.

So what gives?  Here are three theories:


1.  Glazier — who often represents schools in NCAA cases — was hired to represent the school and not the coaches.  For that reason, the coaches were already being set up as potential scapegoats by the university.

But there’s a big problem with that theory.  If UT officials were setting up Pearl in June of 2010, why did the school stand beside him so steadfastly in September?  Why did it risk further potential NCAA punishment and hours of negative publicity by keeping Pearl on the payroll for another full season? 

Sorry, but the “UT was setting up Pearl” theory doesn’t make much sense.


2.  UT officials were told to keep quiet about the photo so NCAA investigators could get an honest, immediate response from Vol coaches. 

Just two weeks ago, the NCAA said Georgia Tech officials had “hindered” its investigation into that school by notifying Tech’s football coaches that a probe was coming… after being told not to do so.

If the NCAA told Tech officials not to tell their coaches what was coming, it seems quite possible that the same might have occurred at Tennessee.

But if the NCAA told the school not to inform Pearl or his coaches of its photographic evidence, what was Glazier doing telling the coaches of the photo just minutes before their interviews?  He shouldn’t have warned them at all.


3.  Tennessee officials and counsel were simply incompetent.  They somehow dropped the ball.  Pearl and his crew should have and could have been notified, but no one got them the message.

Several years worth of bungling by the UT administration give this theory some clout.  Still, it’s hard to believe this was a simple case of miscommunication.


At MrSEC.com, we believe Theory #2 makes the most sense.  But that doesn’t explain why Glazier did eventually warn the coaches of the photo.  Or why UT officials haven’t leaked the NCAA’s hypothetical “don’t tell anyone” order to the press in self-defense.

Stay tuned…

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