Tennessee athletic officials met with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions Saturday afternoon in downtown Indianapolis. The long-awaited, delightful encounter was one giant finger-wagging from the NCAA’s moral authority to Tennessee’s football and basketball departments, both of whom were on hand to receive verbal reprimand for their misdeeds in the past two years.
The meeting served as a single and only get-together between the offending institution and the one judging it before the penalties come down. Tennessee also had its chances to make cases, reasons and apologies for its athletic department's behavior under the tenure of Bruce Pearl, Lane Kiffin and outgoing athletic director Mike Hamilton.
The NCAA will deliver its punishments for the football and basketball programs — most likely including the aforementioned former Tennessee coaches who are no longer at the school — later this summer. (Thinking it’ll be August.)
Despite his ties being cut from Tennessee, Bruce Pearl's leash still had a tug. That's Pearl pictured at Saturday's meetings, which he was mandated to show up for. The affable coach sported his patented orange suspenders (don’t suppose he’ll have many more opportunities to strap those on in public) and gave reporters a smile as he headed into the meetings.
But when he left he was solemn and didn’t think the situation was all that better. He's still ashamed of lying to the NCAA about a barbecue with recruits he had at his house nearly two years ago. It cost him perhaps the highest-paying high profile job he'll have in hoops.
Pearl told reporters there was no uplifting feeling from the day’s meetings. Makes sense: these COI meetings aren’t supposed to create positive morale or uplifting thoughts. Schools are supposed to walk out of them, tail duct-taped between legs.
Asked if Saturday's hearing served as a relief, Pearl said, "not really."
"Obviously, we paid a very heavy price," he said. "All of us have, the university, my coaching staff and our Tennessee fanbase. There's not much relief."
One by one, former coaches, current administrators and current UT coaches all departed without commenting to a handful of reporters who camped outside the closed-door hearing from start to finish.
That group included: former basketball assistants Tony Jones, Jason Shay and Steve Forbes; Vols football coach Derek Dooley; men's athletic director Mike Hamilton, who resigned Tuesday; interim athletic director Joan Cronan, men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and senior associate athletic director David Blackburn.
Specifics from the meetings aren’t allowed to go public, so most choose to not speak to the press to avoid flirting with the possibility of slipping up. It makes sense that Pearl’s former assistants chose not to talk. No coaches did save Pearl and Kiffin, and they're no longer affiliated with Tennessee, except in regard to the pending matters of this investigation and ruling from the NCAA. Outgoing Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton was also mum.
Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek did offer a brief statement to the media that was camped out in corridors of the Marriott where this all took place.
“We are glad we had the opportunity to present our case. We feel it was a fair hearing, and we look forward to the resolution of this matter," Cheek said.
Now the final waiting begins. There is no definitive timetable. I stated above I think this will come in late August, but the NCAA took five months hand down its punishment to UConn. It will come when the NCAA decides it needs to come. Until then, Pearl and Tennessee twist in the wind, awaiting a verdict from a governing body that's vowed to be more strict in its penalties.Photo: AP