The University of Tennessee will discipline basketball coach Bruce Pearl and three assistant coaches for giving misleading information to the NCAA during an investigation into excessive contact with recruits.
The university was formally informed of the NCAA investigation into both the men's basketball and football programs through a Notice of Inquiry to Chancellor Jimmy Cheek. The university is not waiting for the results of that inquiry, which the NCAA expects to be complete in December, to hand down punishments to the coaching staff of the men's basketball team.
Athletic Director Mike Hamilton announced heavy penalties for Pearl during a press conference Friday afternoon.
Hamilton said the NCAA investigation into the basketball team has been ongoing for some time. The NCAA letter says the violations they were investigating occurred primarily in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 academic years.
Hamilton said when Pearl and some assistants were questioned by the NCAA about the violations, they apparently gave misleading information to the investigators. Pearl came to Hamilton and told him what had happened.
Hamilton, saying Pearl made a serious error, announced the university will take preemptive action against Pearl and the assistants before the NCAA levies any penalties for ethical misconduct.
Pearl will take a 25% reduction in salary, and defer a retention bonus that will amount to a $1.5 million dollar penalty over the next five years. Hamilton said that is essentially one year's salary for Pearl. He will also not be allowed off-campus recruiting visits for a year, and defer a retention bonus.
Assistant Steve Forbes will take a 25% reduction in pay and also be restricted from off-campus recruiting until next September, the same time frame as Pearl.
Assistants Jason Shay and Tony Jones will also be penalized with a 25% reduction in pay. Shay is restricted from off-campus recruiting until December 23 and Jones until June 23rd.
In an emotional speech interrupted by several fire alarms, Bruce Pearl was very apologetic. He said he let the players down, the university, his family, and the fans down.
He joked that his players pulled the alarm, thanking them for "having his back."
Pearl said he "loved the University of Tennessee, and that he wants to coach here the rest of his life." He promised never to let them down again.
Hamilton says this is a first step in this process. The self-imposed penalties do not mean that there will not be further punishment from the NCAA. Hamilton says they hope they've taken strong enough action to keep the NCAA from imposing other penalties.
The letter of intent from the NCAA to the university covers both the basketball and football teams, which was under scrutiny for several possible violations under former coach Lane Kiffin.
Derek Dooley, UT's head football coach, released a statement about the investigation into the football team:
"The receipt of this letter represents the next step toward the conclusion of this process. We have high standards in all aspects of the Tennessee football program, and we are steadfast in operating this program with unwavering commitment to compliance with NCAA rules. We look forward to the resolution of the situation and the opportunity to put this matter behind us."
The UT Athletic Department has announced a 3 pm press conference to discuss the receipt of a Letter of Inquiry from the NCAA.
A letter of inquiry lets university officials know that the NCAA enforcement staff will be investigating possible NCAA violations at their school.
Chancellor Dr. Jimmy Cheek, Director of Athletics Mike Hamilton, and Head Men's Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl are scheduled to be at the press conference.
You can watch it live here at WBIR.com.
Stay with 10News and WBIR.com for the latest on this developing story.
Volquest.com is reporting the NCAA is probing the Tennessee men's basketball team.
At the center of the probe is head coach Bruce Pearl's contact with recruits. The NCAA is looking into the possibility of violations concerning the number of contacts to a recruit either through text messages or phone calls, but has not specified whether the alleged contact was during an NCAA-mandated dead period or excessive contact during the season.
NCAA officials have spoken with Pearl and assistant head coach Tony Jones. Jones' meeting is said to have lasted several hours, according to Volquest's sources.
The University of Tennessee has not received a formal Letter of Inquiry from the NCAA.