NCAA: Auburn basketball faces 4-year probation but no postseason ban; Bruce Pearl suspended
AUBURN — Auburn men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl is suspended two games as the program immediately begins a four-year probation period in which two total scholarships will be reduced, among other minor penalties, the NCAA Committee on Infractions determined Friday at the end of its multi-year investigation of Auburn.
The team avoided a 2021-22 postseason ban by self-imposing one the previous year, the NCAA determined in its findings. Auburn will face a $5,000 fine plus 3% of the men's basketball budget — and a number of recruiting sanctions were handed to Pearl's program — but the culmination of a four-year cloud hanging over Auburn comes off as a slap on the wrist relative to other recent NCAA sanctions.
It appears the university will not appeal the committee's decision. In an unattributed statement, Auburn said, "We are pleased that a conclusion has been reached in this case. For the last four years, Auburn has been proactive and cooperative with the NCAA enforcement staff and Committee on Infractions. We have been and will continue to be committed to NCAA rules compliance. As such, we accept all penalties and are ready to move forward."
The investigation stemmed from former assistant coach Chuck Person's September 2017 arrest and eventual conviction for accepting bribes to steer pro prospects to an agent and financial adviser. It was part of a wide-reaching FBI investigation into corruption throughout college basketball.
As part of the NCAA sanctions released Friday, Person faces a 10-year show cause penalty, which means, according to the report: "During that period, any NCAA member school employing him must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows cause why the restrictions should not apply."
Another former Auburn assistant, Harris Adler, received a one-year show cause penalty because he "failed to meet his obligation to fully cooperate in an investigation."
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Auburn fired Person in November 2017. In 2019, he was sentenced to community service and two years of probation. Auburn self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2020-21 season in hopes of avoiding further consequence from the NCAA.
"I hate it for our current players," Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said at the time. "They lost the opportunity for the postseason last year because of COVID, and now they will miss the postseason again. It's a two-year postseason penalty for them. However, we need to take this penalty now to put it behind us."
Though the approach was successful in this case — Auburn wouldn't have made the NCAA Tournament that season regardless — self-imposed sanctions do not automatically mitigate punishment handed down by the NCAA, which took 1,536 days after Person was charged to determine Auburn's penalty. The university never acknowledged receiving a notice of allegations from the NCAA, but it likely arrived at some point in late 2019. When Person was sentenced that July, AU filed a victim impact statement that stated the school "expects to receive a formal Notice of Allegations from the NCAA in the coming months."
When Pearl was the head coach at Tennessee, he was also involved in a major NCAA infractions case, which ended in a three-year show cause penalty. Pearl was fired from Tennessee in 2011.
This is his eighth season at Auburn, a tenure that includes a 145-93 record and a trip to the Final Four in 2019.
"I’m appreciative of Auburn University, our leadership, the AU family and our current and former student-athletes as we navigated through the challenges of the last four years," Pearl said in a statement Friday. "We respect the NCAA peer evaluation process and appreciate the panel recognized we took meaningful and contemporaneous penalties. It is time to put this behind us. As part of our penalty, I will begin my two-game suspension tomorrow against Nebraska."
Auburn (7-1) is scheduled to play Nebraska at 10:30 a.m. CT in Atlanta on Saturday.
The two players involved in the FBI investigation were Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy. On Nov. 2, 2017, Auburn announced Wiley and Purifoy would sit out indefinitely from game action, identifying them as the previously unnamed "Player 1" and "Player 2" in the federal complaint against Person. The assistant coach was indicted by a federal grand jury and fired by Auburn five days later.
In January 2018, the NCAA announced Wiley would not be eligible to play the remainder of the season, a ruling that was upheld after Auburn appealed. Purifoy was ruled to be ineligible for the first 30% of the next season.
Full list of penalties handed down by NCAA to Auburn
- Four years of probation.
- A 2020-21 postseason ban for the men's basketball team (self-imposed).
- A $5,000 fine plus 3% of the men's basketball program budget.
- A reduction of one scholarship during the 2020-21 academic year (self-imposed). The program must reduce the total number of scholarships by two during the term of probation.
- A reduction in the number of official visits in men's basketball to 20 during the 2017-18/2018-19 rolling two-year period (self-imposed).
- A ban on unofficial visits for 19 weeks during the 2017-18 academic year (self-imposed).
- A ban on recruiting phone calls for a 20-week period during the 2017-18 academic year (self-imposed).
- A reduction in the number of recruiting person days in men's basketball by 82 days during the 2017-18 academic year (self-imposed).
- A 10-year show-cause order for the former associate head coach. During that period, any NCAA member school employing him must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows cause why the restrictions should not apply.
- A one-year show-cause order for the former assistant coach. During that period, any NCAA member school employing him must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows cause why the restrictions should not apply.
- A two-game suspension for the head coach during the 2021-22 academic year immediately following the release of the panel's decision.
- A vacation of all team records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible.