UT ready to 'move on' after NCAA ruling

Applause and a whoop of relief greeted Chancellor Jimmy Cheek's announcement Wednesday afternoon to the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees: the NCAA planned no further punishment than what UT already had imposed on itself for a number of athletic coaching infractions.

"We're glad it's behind us, we're pleased, really pleased, that the NCAA accepted our self-imposed penalties and we're really happy they did not give us any additional penalties," Cheek told board members meeting in Murfreesboro, Tenn. "We've got great coaches, we've got a great interim vice chancellor and athletic director, we've got great players. It's time to move on and compete."

Patience, which was certainly tested and occasionally appeared to wane, is what got UT's athletic department through the final months and weeks of waiting for an NCAA Committee on Infractions ruling.

Cooperation throughout the 22-month investigation is what got the university the end result it desired.

Citing multiple NCAA bylaws that included some form of the word "cooperate" in a report released Wednesday, the Committee on Infractions praised how UT handled its frequent interactions with the NCAA's enforcement staff.

It took the opposite stance with former men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl and his three former assistants — Jason Shay, Steve Forbes and Tony Jones — who violated the NCAA's "principles of honesty and sportsmanship."

On top of the news that UT's men's basketball and football programs would face no further punishments other than the 20 it self-imposed throughout the investigation, that praise was what made acting vice chancellor of athletics Joan Cronan the happiest.

"From the very beginning, we were an open book. From the very beginning, we did exactly what they asked us to do, and there was a lot of information to be provided," Cronan said. "This will be a real key factor in how people look at Tennessee."

Meanwhile, Pearl, Shay, Forbes and Jones paid the price for providing misleading information and failing to protect the integrity of the investigation during their initial interviews with NCAA investigators regarding a photograph of Pearl and then-prospect Aaron Craft snapped inside Pearl's home.

"The cooperation the institution demonstrated in this case is in stark contrast to the conduct and failures of the former men's basketball staff," the report reads.

For that, Pearl received a three-year show-cause penalty while the assistants each received a one-year show-cause penalty.

A show-cause penalty effectively keeps a coach out of the NCAA for the duration of the penalty. If a school desires to hire a penalized coach, it must inherit the sanctions that are stuck with him.

"I'm not even sure we would be here without those allegations and findings," said Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky, who also serves as the vice-chair of the Committee on Infractions.

Cronan said former athletic director Mike Hamilton was a "key factor" throughout the investigation.

Hamilton resigned days before the June hearing and received a $1.3 million buyout. The school has yet to hire his replacement.

"Everybody, as we looked forward, wanted to get this behind us," Cronan said. "We wanted to do it right. We're all accountable to each other."

Wednesday's ruling did not include any further punishments for former football coach Lane Kiffin.

Cheek said the school is focused now on finding a new athletic director.

Initially, Cheek set a six- to eight-week window for hiring a new athletic director. Since that deadline has passed, he has said he is instead focused on making the right hire for Tennessee.

UT officials, he said Wednesday, "just haven't quite found the right person yet."

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble. Megan Boehnke blogs about higher education at http://blogs.knoxnews.com/boehnke.

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Comments » 2

VOLliven2it writes:

SIGH....now can we truly just get on with life and getting our bb and fb programs on the winning track again? Guess this means no more penalties for that stark and wonderful program up north in the Bigwhatever conference. But I for one am glad it's behind us and we can look forward to FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!

DRORANGELOVE writes:

Thank MIAMI and their outlaw booster Nevin Shipiro for UTs slap on the wrist by the NCAA.

If the NCAA had of been any harsher on UT or Kiffin for the minor infractions they committed, then they would have had to absolutely nailed Miami, its AD, past coaching staff, and entire football program to the wall, which they don't want to do.

By being lenient to UT and Kiffin, now they won't have to throw the death penalty at Miami AND they won't have to hurt one of their sacred cow favorite schools program ( So Cal ).
Agree with me or not, simPle fact is: The NCAA AND the News Media have always shown favortism and given preferential treatment to certain schools. ( namely : Notre Dame, So Cal, Ohio State, Michigan just to name a few )

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