KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Former Tennessee director of basketball operations Ken Johnson provided two free tickets to the mother of an athlete in March, a secondary violation that ultimately played a role in his firing and the firing of coach Bruce Pearl and his staff.
Tennessee detailed the secondary violation in a March 25 letter to the Southeastern Conference released to The Associated Press on Monday. The name of the athlete was blacked out.
The athlete had already given away the four complimentary tickets he was allowed when the two additional tickets were requested. The athlete repaid the $60 value of the two tickets, and the payment was donated to charity.
"This was an isolated error," Tennessee associate athletics director for compliance Brad Bertani wrote in the letter. "Ken Johnson has never had an issue with NCAA rules infractions at Tennessee. 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 letter says Johnson provided the tickets after receiving a call a few hours before the Volunteers' March 6 game with Kentucky from someone "desperately trying to find two tickets" to the event, which included the team's Senior Day honors and retirement of former Vol Allan Houston's number.
The tickets Johnson provided were tickets assigned to Lady Volunteers basketball staff members. Lady Vols director of basketball operations Kathy Harston allowed Johnson to use the tickets because the women's basketball team was in Nashville for the SEC championship at the time of the game, but Johnson said he did not tell Harston or assistant athletics director for tickets Joe Arnone whom they were for.
Tennessee became aware of the violation when compliance officials working at the player guest pass gate at Thompson-Boling Arena on March 6 noticed two men who entered using the Lady Vols tickets. Bertani questioned Johnson on March 8, and Johnson acknowledged providing the tickets.
Johnson, Pearl and the rest of Pearl's staff were fired on March 21, more than six months after Tennessee revealed Pearl was facing an unethical conduct charge from the NCAA for lying during a probe into recruiting.
Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton had previously said the school wanted to stand behind Pearl as basketball coach but decided to fire him after learning of the Johnson's secondary violation and an addition, minor recruiting violation by Pearl and associate head coach Tony Jones during a Sept. 14, 2010, recruiting trip.
"Upon receipt of our NCAA Letter of Inquiry in September, we made the difficult decision to forego common national opinion and forge ahead with Bruce and his staff pending any further major infractions or issues that would preclude our basketball program from representing the University of Tennessee in the right manner," Hamilton said in a March 21 statement. "The cumulative effect of the evolution of the investigation combined with a number of more recent non-NCAA-related incidents have led to a belief that this staff cannot be viable at Tennessee in the future."