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Why Tennessee Fans Should Feel Good… And Bad

Two sports, 12 major violations. 

How in the world could Tennessee fans feel good in any way about that?  Because it could have been worse.

On the positive side of things for the Vols, the only surprises in the NCAA’s letter of allegations both went in UT’s favor.  First, the baseball program was not accused of any violations, when for months, at least one allegation had been expected.  So instead of three programs being in hot water, only two received a finger-wagging.  Second, instead of rolling up the football violations and leaving them on AD Mike Hamilton’s doorstep, the NCAA decided instead to dish most of them off to Lane Kiffin.

In past cases, schools have more often than not paid the price for departed coaches who broke NCAA rules.  But while UT will still be punished for Kiffin’s deeds, it was Kiffin — not UT — who was tagged with a “failure to monitor” charge.  For Vol fans that’s a double-blessing.  Not only did the school avoid getting “failure to monitor” charges in two sports (they did land one for basketball), but their arch-enemy will have to deal with one.

If Tennessee had had three programs hit with allegations or if the school had been handed two “failure to monitor” charges, there was a possibility that the NCAA could have played the “lack of institutional control” card, too.  But since there was no A, there was also no B.

Overall only two violations were attached to the football program.  Both are considered major — impermissible contact with recruits and a failure to promote an environment of compliance (under Kiffin) — but the penalties will likely be lessened by the fact that Kiffin is gone and there was no failure to monitor charge brought against the school.

The fact that Kiffin landed the failure to monitor charge seems to show that the NCAA is out to get the gang that was at Southern Cal when that school’s violations were taking place in the mid-2000s (Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, etc).  The NCAA could have easily held Tennesee and Hamilton more accountable for hiring Kiffin, but instead, they went after the coach.  Again, that’s not often the way things play out. 

The fact that baseball and football caught some breaks from the NCAA also suggests that Hamilton and UT’s compliance office worked well with investigators behind the scenes.

Switching to basketball, the Vols were charged with eight violations, seven of which are major.  But seven of those eight violations had already been admitted by the university and reported by the press.  The only new issue concerned Bruce Pearl and assistant Tony Jones violating the so-called bump rule in relation to an Oak Hill Academy recruit last September. 

For an investigation that had dragged on for 22 months — and at least one month longer than Tennessee had expected — there were no “uh-oh” revelations in the NCAA’s notice.  UT fans should feel good about that.

Unfortunately for those who wear bright orange, this thing isn’t over yet.  Basically, Tennessee learned today that despite a bit more NCAA digging and some strong rumors of additional charges, UT will only face what most everyone said they would face when this whole scandal broke.

But the punishments for those violations — especially in basketball — could still be harsh.  Pearl still faces a charge of unethical conduct.  His assistants are accused of violating the principles of honesty.

So the “whew!” Vol fans are uttering this afternoon should be tied to the fact that the NCAA found no new dirt.  That “whew!” has nothing to do with the eventual penalty phase.

Pearl could still face anything from a multi-game to multi-year suspension or even a “show cause” penalty.  The school could still lose scholarships, be hit with additional recruiting restrictions or be banned from postseason play for some length of time.  There’s really no way to guess what type of punishment the NCAA will dole out to UT’s coach.

The NCAA writes in its letter to Tennessee: “Pearl failed to protect the integrity of the investigation when he placed a series of phone calls to John Craft,” the father of recruit Aaron Craft regarding the barbecue at Pearl’s house.  The letter also states: “Pearl’s conversation with J. Craft caused J. Craft to believe that Pearl was trying to influence J. Craft’s statements to the NCAA enforcement staff.”

Not good.  And that’s why we included the possibility of a multi-year suspension or even a show cause penalty being leveled against Pearl.  It’s one thing to panic and lie — if that’s what Pearl did — but it’s another to run a full-fledged cover-up.

Finally, there has to be some concern over what Kiffin will say when he goes before the NCAA to defend himself against those charges pinned on him.  It would likely be best for him to deny everything, but there’s nothing to say such a loose cannon won’t try to shift blame in one way or another to Tennessee.  And, if the man decides to have an Al Pacino “And Justice For All” moment at the hearing, he could try to burn everyone’s house down.  Bottom line: You don’t want your school’s fate tied to Kiffin in any way.

Tennessee fans should feel relieved today that the NCAA’s letter of allegations did not contain any revelatory allegations.  But Tennessee fans still need to worry about the Pearl violations that were already known, Kiffin’s response, and the penalty phase overall.

One step is complete.  But UT’s mess isn’t over yet.

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