Aaron Craft Photo May Be at Center of Investigation Into Bruce Pearl
The photo of Craft, who originally verbally committed to Tennessee but later signed with Ohio State, was taken in the fall of 2008 according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. If true, Craft's presence at Pearl's home during an unofficial visit would represent a violation of NCAA rules, which prohibits involvement between coaches and players off-campus during such visits.
According to the News Sentinel, the NCAA questioned Pearl and his coaches on June 14 if they were aware when the photo was taken. The coaches denied knowledge, according to the report.
However, Pearl initiated a later meeting with the the NCAA Aug. 5, when he admitted when the photo was taken.
The admission fits the loose timeline provided during Friday's press conference, in which athletic director Mike Hamilton said Pearl initially mislead NCAA investigators in June, but came to him "three weeks later" to admit his actions.
When asked Friday as to why he came forward, Pearl cited his conscience.
"It's not who I am," Pearl said at the press conference. "I obviously wasn't very happy with myself. It was the right thing to do and I should've done it right away."
According to an additional CBSSports.com report, the NCAA had a copy of the photo prior to its 17-month investigation into Tennessee's recruiting practices.
The school did not divulge specifics of the recruiting violation Friday, however it talked only of impermissible phone calls and the use of unauthorized phones.
The violations may not end with Craft. According to the News-Sentinel, Jordan McRae, also then a Tennessee commitment and now a freshman at the school, and Josh Selby, who committed to Tennessee before signing with Kansas, were also at Pearl's house in the offseason.
Pearl admitted Friday that the underlying violations weren't as problematic as the way he and his staff handled the investigation.
"The things that we did that were wrong, but they weren't as serious as how we reacted to them," Pearl said. "I don't think our attention was to gain a tremendous recruiting advantage. What we did was wrong. What we should've done is not only tell the truth but to be forthcoming, but self-report some things. That was a mistake."
Tennessee sanctioned Pearl and his staff heavily, but the school characterized the investigation as one "looking into telephone activity surrounding our basketball program and a potential of excessive phone calls to recruits." However, the NCAA's notice of inquiry, delivered Friday, characterized the investigation more broadly as one into "possible violations of recruiting and extra benefit legislation."
The NCAA said it expects to wrap up its investigation by December, at which point it will provide the school with a notice of allegations of any violations. The NCAA Committee on Infractions may then choose to accept Tennessee's punishment or add sanctions of its own.
Tennessee deeply restricted the Volunteers' recruiting ability. Pearl is not allowed to recruit off-campus for a period of one year, beginning later this month, while his three assistants will be prohibited from recruiting off-campus for periods of three months to a year. Additionally, Pearl's salary was reduced by $1.5 million over the next five years, while assistants' pay was slashed 25 percent.