KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said in January that the troubles within the Volunteers program must end.
They haven't — violations, arrests and a bar brawl have been among an embarrassing list of incidents.
Now the NCAA is getting involved.
The latest black eye for Tennessee came Friday when men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl acknowledged publicly that he gave misleading and incorrect information to the NCAA about possible violations during a 17-month investigation of his program.
"People make mistakes, and we all make them," Hamilton said. "I've made them. I've made plenty. Bruce made one mistake in this incident, and he came forward to correct it. I'm glad he's our basketball coach."
Hamilton anticipates the NCAA to levy unethical conduct charges against Pearl and his staff, and as a pre-emptive punishment he is reducing Pearl's pay by $1.5 million over five years and prohibiting him from participating in off-campus recruiting for a year beginning Sept 24. Pearl's three assistants also had their pay reduced and cannot participate in off-campus recruiting for periods varying from three months to a year.
Pearl made his announcement less than 24 hours after Tennessee received a letter from the NCAA notifying the university of an official investigation into the entire athletic department. The probe includes possible recruiting violations by the men's basketball program and the football team during former coach Lane Kiffin's one-year tenure.
"This is a tough time, but we're going to get through it as an institution, as a basketball staff, as an athletic staff," Hamilton said.
An emotional Pearl apologized for his part in "letting everybody down."
He provided false information to the NCAA while being interviewed in June about allegations of excessive phone calls made to recruits. Pearl notified officials three weeks later that he had provided the NCAA incorrect information.
"I've made some serious mistakes, and for that I'm truly sorry," Pearl said tearfully at a news conference. "I provided incorrect and misleading information to the NCAA. I've learned some invaluable lessons. After I provided the false and misleading information, subsequently I went back and corrected the record.
"I learned that it's not OK to tell the truth most of the time, but you've got to tell the truth all of the time," he said.
Pearl's revelations also add one more blemish on Hamilton's seven-year run as the leader of the Volunteers men's athletic program. Most of the problems have come since his hire of Kiffin, who lasted one season before leaving for Southern California.
The NCAA has interviewed several current and former Tennessee football assistant coaches and recruits about possible violations during the 2009 season. Tennessee self-reported six minor recruiting violations by Kiffin and his staff and in December acknowledged cooperating with an NCAA investigation into actions by the school's Orange Pride athletics hostess program.
The Vols have also seen a string of arrests in both programs.
A trio of football players were arrested in November on attempted armed robbery charges. And in January, four basketball players were arrested on gun and drug charges, which prompted Hamilton to declare he had no more tolerance for wrongdoing.
Two more football players were arrested in July following a massive bar brawl that left an off-duty police officer with a serious head injury.
Jimmy Cheek, chancellor of Tennessee's Knoxville campus, asserted his confidence in Hamilton's leadership and said the athletic director has had the best interest of not only the Vols but the entire campus at heart.
"It's Mike's job to make absolutely certain that our coaches absolutely understand what our expectations are," Cheek said. "I am confident that he has faced this issue head on. He has been proactive in administering penalties, and he has made very, very tough decisions."
The NCAA has told Tennessee that they expect to wrap up the investigation by December — if not sooner — unless it learns of additional potential violations. Any violations uncovered in the investigation may be forward to the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in 2011.
Hamilton said he hopes the NCAA will take into account the punishments he's levied against the coaching staff when it concludes its investigation and decides on any additional penalty. Attorney Mike Glazier has been hired to assist the university during the investigation.
Hamilton said he was unable to find a similar case from another athletic program where a coach acknowledged wrongdoing before being punished by the NCAA.
"There needs to be more of that in college athletics," the athletic director said. "I hope part of what you get out of this today is this is a person that stood up and did the right thing in the end by coming back forward and saying, 'I want to correct this.'"