A picture taken of a recruit at Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl's home during an unofficial visit nearly two years ago will play a key role into how the NCAA's investigation into the men's basketball program develops.
A source in the UT athletic department, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the NCAA investigation has not been completed, confirmed the latest recruiting violations the NCAA has been looking into.
The picture in question includes Ohio State freshman Aaron Craft, who was then a UT commitment.
Craft, reached via text message by the News Sentinel on Tuesday, said he and his family have been instructed not to comment and to refer all questions to Ohio State's compliance department.
Other players at Pearl's home during their unofficial visits during the Florida home football game weekend of Sept. 19-21, 2008, were UT freshman Jordan McRae and Kansas freshman Josh Selby, according to the source. Both McRae and Selby had made non-binding commitments to attend UT prior to the visit.
The source confirmed that Pearl and his assistant coaches, when asked in initial NCAA interviews on June 14 if they recognized where the photo was taken, said they did not.
Pearl initiated a second interview with the NCAA that was conducted on Aug. 5, during which he revealed information about the photo, according to the source.
Pearl said Friday he told NCAA investigators he provided misleading and incomplete testimony during the initial NCAA interview.
The players' presence at Pearl's home wasn't the only potential issue. By NCAA rule, food and drink cannot be provided in an off-campus setting during a junior's unofficial visit.
Assistant coaches Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay had their salaries reduced 25 percent as part of the self-imposed sanctions UT revealed Friday during a news conference pertaining to the school receiving an NCAA letter of inquiry.
Pearl's salary has been reduced $1.5 million over the next five years, and all four coaches have had their off-campus recruiting privileges suspended beginning on Sept. 24.
Pearl said Friday the nature of the violations in question did not provide UT with an appreciable competitive advantage.
UT revealed Friday that the coaching staff also made an excess of phone calls within the time frame of the past two calendar recruiting years.
"It's not so much what we did; the worst thing was how we handled it,'' Pearl said Friday. "I don't think our intention or result was to gain a tremendous recruiting advantage.''
The distinction could prove key when the case reaches the summary disposition and/or the infractions committee portion of the NCAA process.
When doling out punishment - reduction of scholarships, recruiting restrictions or postseason bans - the NCAA takes into account the competitive advantage gained by non-compliant actions.
Hamilton said during Friday's news conference he anticipates unethical conduct charges to be levied against Pearl, but UT hopes the severe and unprecedented self-imposed sanctions will satisfy the NCAA to the extent further penalties - that could affect current players - won't be issued.
Pearl, Forbes and Jones are out on the road recruiting this week, as their off-campus suspensions begin in nine days.
UT's two verbal commitments in the Class of 2011, guards Kevin Ware and Chris Jones, said Saturday they will remain firm and sign with UT.
The NCAA letter of inquiry indicated the NCAA enforcement staff hopes to have its investigation complete by December of 2010, at which point a letter of allegations will be sent to UT.