An NCAA infractions report released Thursday issued two years of probation to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and raised the specter of athletic programs at UT Knoxville being headed for the same fate.
The Vols athletic program hasn't been on NCAA probation since serving a two-year sentence from Sept. 18, 1991, through Sept. 17, 1993, for violations involving former coach Johnny Majors' football program.
The NCAA charged the Vols with six recruiting violations at that time while accepting UT's self-imposed penalty of a reduction of 10 football scholarships. Former UT football assistant Jack Sells, who was involved in most of the violations, was fired as a result of the investigation.
The Mocs' case centered around a series of impermissible phone calls and text messages to prospects. Football and men's basketball were the primary violators, while women's basketball and men's tennis were involved at a considerably lesser degree.
According to the Chattanooga school's website, the improper contacts were secondary in nature, however, "grouped together, the NCAA Committee on Infractions considers them a major violation.''
The committee on infractions report, obtained by the News Sentinel, determined the institution failed to properly monitor coaches' communications with recruits and basketball coach John Shulman "did not promote an atmosphere of compliance," and Shulman "at times . . . did not protect the integrity of the (NCAA) investigation.''
Chattanooga's probation doesn't include a postseason ban.
This, even though the report states "some of the impermissible communications provided more than a minimal recruiting advantage,'' and, "many, if not most of these communications, were not inadvertent.''
As part of the summary disposition, the Mocs' self-imposed men's basketball sanctions included a loss of one scholarship for the 2010-2011 season, and the staff wasn't allowed to have contact with recruits during a 17-week period from Nov. 2009 to March 2010.
Chattanooga received its letter of inquiry on Aug. 5, 2009, and the investigation proceeded with phone audits, self-reports and self-imposed sanctions leading up to Thursday's report.
The current NCAA investigation into the Vols evolved on Sept. 10 with a letter of inquiry informing the school of the enforcement staff's investigation into the football, men's basketball and baseball programs.
The investigation into Vols football apparently centers around an improper visit to a high school football game by a since-disbanded UT hostess group. Little has been learned about the nature of the investigation into baseball.
The basketball investigation is considerably more transparent. Documents obtained by the News Sentinel from UT through public records requests chronicle a series of secondary violations that ultimately could add up to a major violation(s).
Vols athletic director Mike Hamilton revealed in a Sept. 10 press conference that men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl and his assistant coaches provided false and misleading testimony in their initial interview with the NCAA on June 14 as it pertained to a photo of Pearl with a former recruit taken at Pearl's home.
UT issued numerous severe, unprecedented self-imposed sanctions that include a $1.5 million reduction in Pearl's salary and a one-year suspension of off-campus recruiting privileges along with many other recruiting limitations and restrictions on Pearl and his staff.
Hamilton said he anticipates an unethical conduct charge despite the fact Pearl requested a second interview with the NCAA, held Aug. 5, in which he disclosed details involving the photo and improper off-campus visit.
An unethical conduct charge of that nature would likely constitute a major violation.
The basketball cases at Chattanooga and Tennessee are similar in that they both involve a comparable amount of improper phone contacts.
The Chattanooga men's basketball staff was found to have made a total of 84 impermissible contacts (61 calls, 23 text messages) over a 16-month period between May 2008 and August 2009.
The Vols basketball staff made 97 impermissible contacts - all calls - in a 21-month span between October 2007 and July 2009.
Tennessee also had a violation involving an assistant coach misapplying the 48-hour official visit rule to the parents of three prospects after they checked into a hotel hours earlier than expected during official visits in the fall of 2009. The violations involving the hotel are secondary in and of themselves.
The letter of inquiry the Vols received on Sept. 10 informed UT the NCAA's enforcement staff plans to have its investigation complete in Dec. 2010, at which point it is expected to deliver the letter of allegations.
From there, the case goes into the summary disposition process and ultimately before the committee on infractions. It's likely UT won't receive its findings from the committee on infractions any earlier than April of 2011.
According to the NCAA website, there are 147 athletic programs that are subject to penalties in the 2009-10 year with men's basketball leading the way (31) followed by football (26), men's track (20, indoor/outdoor) and baseball (16).