KNOXVILLE, TENN. (AP) - Though Tennessee agrees with most of the dozen allegations made against it by the NCAA, the university argued in its response to the association that some of the violations should be considered secondary instead of major.
The university also said it tried to do a better job monitoring the recruiting phone calls that got it into trouble.
In the response filed May 20 and released recently to the media, the school says it considers the basketball staff's impermissible off-campus contact _ or violation of the NCAA's "bump rule" _ a secondary violation.
The violation in question happened Sept. 14 when then-coach Bruce Pearl and associate head coach Tony Jones were approached by Jordan Adams, a junior at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. The coaches were there for a permissible meeting with senior Ben McLemore and observe, but not speak with, Adams and fellow junior Damien Wilson.
Adams was the one to approach the coaches, but their conversation lasted beyond the brief exchange of greetings that is allowed before a violation occurs. Adams estimated it lasted two or three minutes, and both he and Pearl said Pearl briefly mentioned Tennessee's ongoing NCAA investigation.
Tennessee claims that because it was the only instance where Pearl and Jones are accused of a bump rule violation and because it was an inadvertent contact between them and Adams, it should be considered a secondary violation.
"The violation was isolated in that it occurred on only one occasion, and there is no pattern of 'bumps' by the men's basketball coaches during off-campus recruiting visits," the university's response to the NCAA says. "The university understands that a 'bump that begins inadvertently can easily fall out of that category when the coach realizes that a violation is occurring and he continues the encounter with the prospective student-athlete. However, based upon the brevity of the encounter and the nature of Pearl's and Jones' statements, the weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that the violation was inadvertent."
Tennessee also reported a secondary violation in ... when it found assistant basketball coach Jason Shay approved lodging expenses for three recruits whose visits in Knoxville lasted longer than the allowed 48 hours.
The school said that violation and the bump rule violation should not play a role in the NCAA's decision about whether Pearl failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance in his program and failed to monitor the program for compliance issues.
"These violations are secondary in nature which, by definition, means they are isolated or inadvertent and were not intended to result in, nor did they result in, any meaningful recruiting advantage," the response says.
Tennessee also argued that 16 impermissible calls to five recruits made by former football coach Lane Kiffin and his staff are secondary violations instead of major ones.
"The violation is secondary because the impermissible calls were isolated to a four-day period and did not provide more than a minimal recruiting advantage, particularly given the fact that 11 of the 16 calls lasted for two minutes or less," the response says.
The athletics department was charged with failing to monitor the men's basketball coaching staff's telephone contact with recruits after its compliance department failed to uncover some of the nearly 100 impermissible calls made by Pearl and his staff between Aug. 1, 2007, and July 29, 2009.
Tennessee agrees that it failed to properly monitor the staff because compliance officials relied on the coaches' own records of phone calls made to recruits, but the university says when the earliest violations occurred, it was struggling to find a way to better monitor phone calls.
Compliance officials struggled to get the coaches' cell phone records from Verizon in a timely manner. They also started researching an automated call tracking system called Comply & Verify as early as May 2007, but because of financial restrictions and additional struggles with Verizon, they were unable to have the system fully installed until December 2008.
The university has since upgraded to additional monitoring software that sends a warning to a coach's cell phone if he or she has reached the limit on phone calls to a particular recruit.
"The university believes the facts and circumstances, when viewed in their totality, support the conclusion that its compliance program staff was cognizant of the importance of monitoring telephone calls and were taking meaningful steps to do so," the response reads.
University officials, Pearl, Kiffin and others met with the NCAA's committee on infractions on June 11 in Indianapolis, and Tennessee is awaiting its final ruling on the allegations.