Former Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl didn't have direct involvement in the final secondary violation that led to his firing on March 21, according to information obtained Monday by the News Sentinel through a public records request.
Former director of basketball operations Ken Johnson provided two tickets to the mother of a current player for the March 6 home game against Kentucky, according to the school's report of institutional violations sent to the SEC office dated March 25.
“None of the coaches were aware that Ken was going to provide (the player) with tickets,'' the report states.
Pearl had been under intense scrutiny since Sept. 10 when UT revealed it had received a Letter of Inquiry from the NCAA.
Pearl's contract was terminated and he was suspended from off-campus recruiting for a year after it was disclosed he had provided false and misleading testimony to the NCAA in a June 14 interview involving impermissible contact with a recruit on an unofficial visit on Sept. 20, 2008.
Pearl requested and received another interview with the NCAA on Aug. 5, at which point he admitted he committed a violation by having three junior prospects at his West Knoxville home for a barbecue. One of the prospects, current Ohio State freshman Aaron Craft, had a picture of him and Pearl together, which served as the primary evidence in the NCAA's case.
After disclosing the contact violation – and Pearl's subsequent unethical conduct violation – UT athletic director Mike Hamilton and chancellor Jimmy Cheek said they would stand behind Pearl so long as there weren't any other major violations committed.
The NCAA later released a Notice of Allegations charging Pearl with what's commonly known as a “bump violation'' that allegedly occurred on Sept. 14 at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy.
The NCAA enforcement staff interpreted the bump as “major,'' providing another serious, unprecedented twist in the mounting case against Pearl.
UT plans to appeal the bump violation when it goes before the NCAA Committee on Infraction on June 10-11 in Indianapolis.
The ticket violation, however, has been settled.
UT players receive four complimentary tickets for home games, but the player - whose named was redacted - had already assigned his tickets when his mother called Johnson the morning of the game asking for two more.
According to the report, the player wasn't aware that Johnson provided his mother with tickets.
When the tickets were scanned, it was discovered that they were originally designated to Lady Vols basketball staff members.
Joe Arnone, UT's assistant athletics director for tickets, testified that Johnson requested the tickets because the Lady Vols were away competing in the SEC tournament.
Arnone told Johnson that he couldn't reprint the tickets unless the Lady Vols made the request.
Kathy Harston, the director of Lady Vols basketball operations, told Arnone that he could reprint their tickets and provide them to Johnson.
Johnson, however, didn't tell Arnone or Harston who the tickets were for.
When questioned on March 8 by Brad Bertani, UT's associate athletic director for compliance, Johnson cooperated fully and admitted who was provided the two tickets.
The report states “this was an isolated error,'' and that Johnson had never had prior issues nor violations with the NCAA.
“Ken confirmed that he was not directed to provide the tickets by anyone, and that this was the only time he has ever provided hard tickets to the family member of a student-athlete,'' the report said.
The player repaid the value of the two tickets ($60), and the money was donated to a charity. The player's eligibility has been reinstated based on his repayment in accordance with NCAA bylaws.
The report said the secondary violation could have been easily avoided; the player could have obtained complimentary tickets from two walk-on players who each only used two of their allotted tickets.
The UT compliance office met with players on March 7 and then the coaching staff on March 8 as a result of the violation to review the rules on complimentary tickets.
Pearl has not made any public comments since he was fired. Johnson could not be reached for comment.