Bruce Pearl thinks worst may be over
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said Sunday he is confident that the school may stave off any further penalties after what he characterized as unprecedented action taken by the school and SEC to impose sanctions on him and his staff over recruiting violations that included Pearl misleading investigators.
He also said that his eight-game SEC suspension by commissioner Mike Slive won't affect the team since the restrictions on him don't prevent him from coaching the team in practice or traveling with the team.
"This has all been unprecedented," Pearl said Sunday by phone while preparing for this week's NIT Season-Tip Off semifinal game against VCU in New York at Madison Square Garden. "Mike Slive was the chair of the appeals committee. He knows."
Pearl said it's critical to have Slive as an ally for Tennessee (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) when it does go before the committee on infractions, at the earliest in February.
However, the hearing could be delayed until the spring depending upon when the university receives its official notice of allegations. That could come next month as the NCAA is finishing investigations into the football and baseball programs as well. Those will be wrapped up into one notice of allegation with men's basketball.
Pearl has been essentially fined $1.5 million over five years with a salary reduction as well as being banned from recruiting off campus for a year beginning Sept. 24. Pearl said he also banned his assistant Tony Jones from making calls for six months. Jones will replace Pearl for the eight SEC games at Arkansas (Jan. 8), Florida (Jan. 11), Vanderbilt (Jan. 15), at Georgia (Jan. 18), LSU (Jan. 26), at Ole Miss (Jan. 29), at Auburn (Feb. 3) and Alabama (Feb. 5) before the SEC suspension is lifted for the two-game road trip to SEC East powers Kentucky (Feb. 8) and Florida (Feb. 12).
Pearl said he would coach in a nonconference game at Connecticut on Jan. 22 and saw no reason why that would be bizarre to be suspended, coach for a game, and then be suspended again. Why? Well, he said the game-day suspension only prevents him coaching the team the two hours prior to tipoff, the game, and then one-hour after the game.
"I'll be calling all the plays, preparing the game plans, getting everything set," Pearl said. "Tony will just execute it. Commissioner Slive didn't include the Connecticut game because that's not where his authority lies. I'll be traveling with the team. I'll be like the injured point guard. The rest of the team just steps up and takes over."
Pearl said Tennessee took the "extraordinary steps," prior to even receiving a notice of allegations to show how proactive it would be in dealing with the violations and any potential NCAA sanctions. He said that the transcripts of the notice will show that he simply didn't report the secondary violation of high school juniors being at his house three years ago. He said that no new information has come out about the case, but because there have been actions taken -- the initial news conference in September announcing the sanctions, his contract being terminated and now Slive's suspension -- it appears likely there is new information.
Pearl said a new contract is being worked up for him (he's working now without one). And, unless there is something new in the notice of allegations, he expects to receive a contract once that notice comes out from the NCAA.
Pearl acknowledged that the university has stuck by him. He said the disciplinary action so far by the school and the SEC is warranted but should show that he wasn't going to get fired. The university has made it clear that Pearl is their coach long term.
After playing VCU on Wednesday, the Volunteers (3-0) will play either Villanova or UCLA on Friday in New York.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.