The end of the University of Tennessee's nearly 28-month stay in NCAA purgatory has finally arrived. And the Volunteers did not face any additional judgment from college athletics' governing body Wednesday when its findings were made public.
The NCAA accepted the 20 self-imposed penalties, levied both by UT and the Southeastern Conference, and accepted the school's suggested two-year probation, which will from today through Aug. 23, 2013.
Tennessee's dismissal of former basketball coach Bruce Pearl and his coaching staff, as well as the school's self-imposed probation and penalties, have been enough to satisfy the NCAA's more than two-year investigation into the Volunteers' athletics programs. Neither the Vols' football nor basketball programs will receive additional penalties, a monumental accomplishment for a UT athletics program that had endured seemingly endless bouts of misdeeds, turnover and bad publicity. Tennessee has an active search for a permanent athletics director and is on its second coach in football, basketball and baseball since the NCAA probe began in April 2009.
Sources with intimate knowledge of the NCAA's now-completed investigation into the Tennessee programs told VolQuest.com Tuesday evening that the school's self-imposed penalties --- the most notable of which was two years' probation for the athletics department --- had satisfied the NCAA from a punishment standpoint. The school also docked some recruiting visits during the spring evaluation period for its football coaches and barred basketball coaches in the coming year from providing off-campus meals.
The same cannot be said for Pearl and his former assistants; current Alcoa High School coach Tony Jones and junior college coaches Steve Forbes and Jason Shay all have received the NCAA's dreaded "show-cause" penalty. Pearl will get a three-year penalty while the assistants each must deal with one-year "show-cause" letters. The penalty is an effective ban from coaching in the college game as it mandates that any NCAA institution who wishes to hire any of the coaches operating under the letter must "show cause" as to why its circumstances are such that a coach who's been punished with a "show-cause" letter should be allowed to be hired.
From the NCAA C.O.I. report:
"Head coaches bear primary responsibility for monitoring all aspects of their programs and promoting an atmosphere for compliance. It is also presumed that head coaches know or should know of violations in their programs, particularly when the violations occur over an extended period of time."
VolQuest.com steadfastly reported in the year since first reporting the news of the probe into Pearl's Volunteers basketball program that he and his assistants were facing likely "show-cause" penalties. That belief was reiterated in late February, when Tennessee finally received the NCAA's Notice of Allegations and sources again reiterated that Pearl and his coaches almost certainly faced those penalties after absorbing charges that including an unethical conduct charge against Pearl.
Tennessee officials presented their case before the NCAA in early June and again left that meeting confident that they had meted out adequate justice commensurate with the NCAA's findings of wrongdoing and that additional penalties would follow Pearl & Co., a belief again reported by VolQuest.com at that time.
Interestingly, the NCAA did not levy any additional sanctions against former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin nor ex-assistant David Reaves, noting that Reaves truthfully acknowledged that he had periodically given money to members of UT's "Orange Pride" organization and that it was not an occurrence isolated to the now-infamous "Hostess-gate" trip to a high school game in South Carolina.
During a rare radio interview Sunday evening with Chris Low of ESPN.com and John Brice of VolQuest.com on "The Nation," Interim Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Joan Cronan said she "looked forward" to receiving the NCAA's final letter on the case and that she looked forward to helping move UT forward from this matter.
"We appreciate the opportunity to close this chapter with the Committee's announcement today, moving forward with no major violations in our football program and no additional penalties from the NCAA," Cronan said in a UT release. "The institution cooperated fully with the NCAA and we have a strong culture of compliance. A bright future is on the horizon for Tennessee athletics."
The completion of the investigation and the ability to recruit without needing to answer further questions on the NCAA matter will certainly be a welcome relief to all the Vols' basketball and football coaches, most notably Derek Dooley. Tennessee's second-year football coach addressed the lingering NCAA melodrama last month at the Southeastern Conference's annual media days and Dooley is expected to have additional comments later Wednesday night following the Vols' final tune-up of their pre-season camp, a "mock game" inside Neyland Stadium.
"This is our third year and we're still answering questions," Dooley said, referencing that the Vols are working on their third signing class since he was hired in January 2010. "I think absolutely it has an impact [on recruiting]. It certainly makes it a little tougher from our standpoint because our challenge is getting guys from other states to come see us. I think once players come to our campus that they we're able to look past some of those concerns and they see how we operate and how we do things, then we can get in the game.
"The hardest challenge for us has been some of the negative attention that swirled around our program prevented guys from even having an initial interested in coming to look at us. Certainly it provides a tremendous amount of fair ammunition for your opponents."
Now that ammunition won't be as readily accessible. Further, the absence of additional penalties means that Cuonzo Martin's initial contract to become Pearl's replacement as Tennessee's basketball coach will remain status quo. Martin had a clause in his contract that provided additional years and money should the Vols have to forfeit scholarships or face a postseason ban, penalties that Tennessee basketball now will not face.
Former Vols coach Lane Kiffin praised the NCAA in a statement released by his current school, Southern Cal, Wednesday afternoon.
"I'm very grateful to the NCAA, the Committee on Infractions and its chairman, Dennis Thomas, for a very fair and thorough process. I'm also very grateful that we were able to accurately and fairly present the facts in our case and that no action was taken against us. I'm pleased that the NCAA based its decision on the facts and not on perception. I'm also very grateful that the Tennessee football program was cleared of any wrongdoing.
"As I have said before, we always have been committed to following NCAA rules and bylaws both at Tennessee and now at USC, and we always will be," Kiffin said. "Now that this has reached its conclusion, I am looking forward to continuing to prepare our team for the upcoming season."
Tennessee Chancellor Dr. Jimmy Cheek attempted Wednesday to shift the focus back to the competitive playing fields.
"It is time for the University of Tennessee to put this behind us and look forward," said Cheek in the statement. "The NCAA commented very positively about our cooperation. We have worked hard to make things right and that has been accepted by the Committee. We have great coaches and great student-athletes, and now it's time to go out there and compete."