The NCAA case involving the University of Tennessee men's basketball program took another unprecedented downward turn on Friday.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive suspended coach Bruce Pearl for the first eight games of the 2011 conference season as a result of his conduct related to recruiting violations under investigation.
Slive said in a teleconference with reporters that he considered suspending Pearl for the entire SEC season.
"I determined that there may well have been enough to suspend coach Pearl for the entire conference season,'' Slive said. "But the fact that he owned up to what he had done, owned up to the underlying violations, I felt that half of the conference season was an appropriate penalty.''
The directive mandates Pearl not be present in the playing facility two hours prior to the scheduled tip-off until one hour following the conclusion of games from which he's suspended. UT associate head coach Tony Jones will direct the Vols Jan. 8-Feb. 5.
Pearl said he understands the suspension and appreciates UT's continued support.
"I think that these penalties are directed at me, and directed at me as a result of things I've done," Pearl said. "I'm still very appreciative of the support I've received from the university, particularly (athletic director) Mike Hamilton and (Chancellor) Jimmy Cheek. I know I have disappointed them, but they have stood by me.
"When you don't play by the rules, these are the things that can happen.''
It's the first time the SEC office has taken steps to suspend a coach, a power granted to Slive by virtue of a new bylaw in the SEC Constitution that was unanimously approved during the league's spring meetings in Destin, Fla., in June.
Pearl admitted during a Sept. 10 press conference, when UT first announced it had received a letter of inquiry from the NCAA, that he misled investigators during a June 14 interview about the whereabouts of a picture taken of him and then-recruit Aaron Craft.
The picture, taken at Pearl's house on Sept. 20, 2008, served as proof of an NCAA violation. Craft was a junior at that time and therefore not allowed to have off-campus contact with Pearl during a visit.
Pearl requested a second interview with the NCAA, and on Aug. 5, he admitted that Craft (now at Ohio State) was indeed at his house along with former UT commitment Josh Selby (now at Kansas) and UT freshman Jordan McRae.
UT had already served Pearl and the basketball program with unprecedented self-imposed sanctions.
Pearl's salary has been reduced $1.5 million over the next five years - $500,000 this season - and his assistant coaches' salaries have been reduced by 25 percent.
Further, Pearl and his assistants have been serving an off-campus recruiting ban that began Sept. 24. Pearl, along with assistant Steve Forbes, was suspended for a year. Jones was suspended nine months, and assistant coach Jason Shay is serving a three-month suspension.
"I want to make something clear: In my mind, the university has imposed very significant penalties and in some cases unprecedented penalties," Slive said. "... the conference penalty is separate and distinct from the university's actions. The facts of this case are the basis for the penalty, but I'm assuming it will send a message."
Slive informed Hamilton at the beginning of October that he was considering imposing more penalties on the basketball program and followed up with a letter dated Nov. 3.
Hamilton responded with a Nov. 9 letter outlining actions UT had taken, explaining he had reviewed "precedent involving dishonesty by student-athletes, including the case of Dez Bryant from Oklahoma State University, who provided false information to the NCAA, admitted it and was suspended from playing in games for a season."
Hamilton pointed out in the letter that suspending Pearl from coaching for a year would "unduly harm the current student-athletes," and that "the suspension from recruiting may prove to have a longer-term impact on Coach Pearl than a suspension from competition."
Hamilton said he was disappointed in the severity of Slive's additional punishment.
"I think the SEC was trying to make a stand that we're going to try to attack these issues aggressively," Hamilton said. "I would think there are coaches in America sitting up straight in their chairs thinking about these implications."
Cheek reiterated that the school is squarely behind Pearl coaching the team into the future.
"Coach Pearl is our coach," Cheek said. "He's going to be our coach for many, many years. We're going to get through this adversity and we're going to be stronger as a result of it."