Kiffin testifies at NCAA hearing into Tennessee infractions

INDIANAPOLIS — Tennessee finally got a chance to make its case in front of the NCAA infractions committee Saturday.

Former football coach Lane Kiffin spent more than four hours in a hearing room as committee members discussed alleged infractions in the Volunteers football program. An ho

ur later, former basketball coach Bruce Pearl and his former assistants got their turn.

Tennessee officials declined to comment before the hearing or during the lunch break, but Kiffin did talk before heading to back to Southern California, where he is now the head coach. He’s hoping to arrive before the Trojans’ football camp ends Saturday.

“It’s a very thorough process and I’m glad it’s over,” Kiffin said. “It was a lot shorter than the last one I sat through, three days of USC’s, and I’m happy it’s over.”

Kiffin said he could not comment on specifics that were discussed during the hearing.

The list of allegations includes a dozen major violations against Tennessee’s football and basketball programs, including accussations that Kiffin and Pearl both committed recruiting violations and failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within their programs.

Pearl also was charged with unethical conduct after misleading NCAA investigators during an interview last June. H was asked about hosting high school juniors at a cookout at his house on Sept. 20, 2008, and phoning John Craft, father of recruit Aaron Craft, in an effort to influence Craft’s statement to investigators about the cookout. Craft just completed his freshman season at Ohio State, whose football program is also being investigated by the NCAA.

On Sept. 10, in a tearful news conference, Pearl acknowledged he provided false information to the investigators. He showed up at the hearing wearing an orange tie and orange suspenders.

“Throughout this process we have recognized that we made significant mistakes, and we look forward to concluding this matter with the NCAA,” Pearl said in February. “The penalties imposed on our program to date have been severe, but I want to commend our student-athletes and staff for staying focused and working through these potential distractions.”

Tennessee punished Pearl by reducing his salary by $1.5 million and banning from off-campus recruiting for a year. The SEC also suspended Pearl for eight conference games, and he has since been fired.

The school also lowered the salary for each of Pearl’s three assistants, who were accused of not providing “complete” information about the cookout.

Pearl and his assistant coaches attended the first 40 minutes of the morning session for opening statements, then left en masse as the football allegations took center stage.

That part of the hearing went so long it twice delayed the scheduled one-hour lunch break.

The basketball part, which Pearl and his staff members are expected to attend, could take even longer because most of the major allegations occurred in that sport.

There was no shortage of Tennessee supporters inside the hearing room, either.

Joining Kiffin and Pearl were Tennessee’s soon-to-be former athletic director Mike Hamilton and SEC commissioner Mike Slive. Southern California athletic director Pat Haden accompanied Kiffin to the meeting. It’s the second time since January that Haden has appeared in front of an NCAA committee. He also attend the hearing on Southern California’s appeal in January.

Tennessee’s contingent was so big that the NCAA actually moved the hearing from its originally booked conference room in a downtown hotel to a larger one. It took place about five blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium where one of the Volunteers’ most famous alums, four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning, plays his home games.

Pearl and two of his assistants, Tony Jones and Steve Forbes are accused of making 96 impermissible phone calls to 12 recruits or relatives between Aug. 1, 2007, and July 29, 2009.

Tennessee has been charged with failure to monitor the coaching staff’s telephone contacts.

Kiffin and his assistants were accused of making improper calls to recruits after Tennessee officials had warned them against it. He made those calls just days before taking the Southern California job in January 2010.

In addition, Kiffin and recruiting intern Steve Rubio are accused of visiting a Florida high school on Oct. 12, 2009, even though Rubio was not permitted to make on-campus visits.

The failure to monitor charge stems from trips taken by members of the school’s athletics hostess program to visit recruits.

The fallout from the scandal has been costly to the athletic department.

This week, Hamilton announced he would resign at the end of the month. Tennessee women’s athletics director Joan Cronan will serve as interim vice chancellor and director of athletics until Hamilton’s replacement is picked.

And in eight to 12 weeks, the Volunteers should learn what sanctions the NCAA will impose.

“The length of these investigations is problematic in college athletics,” Hamilton said before coming to Indianapolis. “If you think about the fact that our investigation began in April of 2009 and here we are in June of 2011, 26 months later — there’s collateral damage along the way because of that.”

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