The NCAA Committee on Infractions on Friday placed Auburn‘s men’s basketball program on four years’ probation and suspended coach Bruce Pearl for two games after it said he failed to adequately monitor former assistant coach Chuck Person and did not promote an atmosphere of compliance.
The NCAA’s long-anticipated ruling comes more than four years after Person was arrested and charged in September 2017 with accepting bribes from a financial advisor who was working as an informant for the federal government.
Pearl, who has a 145-93 record in eight seasons at Auburn, is the first head coach to be penalized in a case related to the federal investigation. It’s the second time he has been sanctioned by the NCAA; he was given a three-year show cause penalty in 2011 after he allegedly misled investigators about his program’s impermissible contact with recruits while coaching at Tennessee. In March 2014, Auburn hired him before the show-cause order had expired.
“We are pleased that a conclusion has been reached in this case,” a prepared release from Auburn said. “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.”
Person, a former Auburn star and NBA player, was accused of soliciting and accepting at least $91,500 from Louis Martin Blazer III, a former financial adviser, who was working as a cooperating witness for the FBI in its investigation into college basketball corruption. Person was accused of facilitating some of the money to Auburn players’ families as inducements to get them to sign with certain financial advisors once they turned pro. The government alleged he provided $11,000 to one player’s family and $7,500 to another’s.
In November 2020, the Tigers self-imposed a one-year postseason ban for the 2020-21 season as part of their punishment for the NCAA violations. In a statement at the time, Pearl said it was a “difficult decision but the right decision.” Auburn finished tied for 10th in the SEC with a 13-14 record in 2020-21, including a 7-11 mark in SEC play.
AL.com reported in August 2019 that the Tigers had self-imposed recruiting restrictions from September 2017 to April 2018. The school didn’t publicly disclose the self-imposed punishment.
The NCAA’s ruling stated that Pearl’s monitoring efforts “were tardy or limited in nature” and that there were specific examples, despite Pearl’s claims “to have monitored and educated his staff about NCAA compliance,” that other noncoaching staff members failed to report potential issues to the coach or the compliance department.
The report said that when Pearl became aware of “potentially problematic situations involving Person, “he failed to ask reasonable and pertinent questions. These shortcomings allowed violations to go undetected.”
The NCAA said it investigated an allegation that an unnamed Auburn assistant coach and a non-scholastic coach paid the tuition of a walk-on player but could not corroborate the alleged violation. The assistant coach met with NCAA investigators two times but failed to meet with them again “after it uncovered additional information about potential violations.” The NCAA alleged the assistant failed to meet his obligation to fully cooperate in an investigation. Person never met with NCAA enforcement staff, the report said.
The NCAA said Pearl will have to serve the suspension immediately following the release of the panel’s decision. The Tigers are 7-1 and ranked No. 18 in the AP poll this season. They play Nebraska in Atlanta on Saturday (11:30 a.m., ESPN2 and ESPN App).
“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. “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.”
The NCAA also fined Auburn $5,000 plus 3% of its men’s basketball program budget, added the loss of two scholarships during the probation (the Tigers had already self-imposed a loss of one) and imposed other recruiting restrictions.
Person received a 10-year show-cause penalty, and an unnamed Auburn assistant coach received a one-year show cause.
Two former Auburn players — Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy — were suspended for the entire 2017-18 season for allegedly accepting improper benefits from Person. Purifoy was also suspended for 30 percent of the next season. According to Auburn officials, Purifoy took $1,250 from Person and his parents accepted $4,500 in cash and hotel rooms. Auburn officials said Wiley accepted about $800 from Person over 10 months.
The NCAA found that Person also provided impermissible benefits to Wiley and Purifoy over the course of several years.
“The payments to one student-athlete began when he was a college prospect, after his father — the associate head coach’s distant family member — and mother separated,” the committee’s report said. “The associate head coach maintained a friendship with the then-prospect’s mother, but gradually shifted their conversations toward recruiting the prospect. He provided a total of approximately $2,300 to the prospect’s mother over the course of three years and paid for a $750 suit for the prospect.”
Person, who played for five NBA teams over 13 seasons after being drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 1986, was sentenced in July 2019 to community service and two years of probation. He avoided prison time and his lawyers told a judge that he was having financial problems when he accepted the bribes.
At the time of Person’s sentencing, university officials wrote in a victim impact statement that “his poor decision failed Auburn in every way.”
“They have resulted in considerable financial expense relating to internal and external investigations that confirmed the limited scope of Person’s misconduct,” the letter said. “Those costs — which are already considerable — will continue to rise through Auburn’s completion of the NCAA process, which presents the possibility of significant sanctions and penalties flowing from Person’s criminal actions. Perhaps more damaging, Person’s actions have immeasurably damaged Auburn’s national reputation based on it being attached — fairly or unfairly — to Person’s criminal spectacle.”
Auburn was among 12 NCAA men’s basketball programs who were alleged to have violated NCAA rules as part of the government’s wide-ranging investigation, which also included pay-for-play schemes involving Adidas employees and a business manager.
Seven of the NCAA cases have been resolved through the traditional Committee on Infractions process, and Alabama, Auburn, Creighton, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC were each placed on at least two years’ probation for violations committed by assistant coaches and staff members. Oklahoma State was the only program that received a postseason ban; the NCAA denied its appeal in November and the Cowboys are banned from playing in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments this season.
Five other cases involving Arizona, Kansas, Louisville, LSU Tigers and NC State are being adjudicated through the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP), which was created by the NCAA to handle complex cases. NC State is the only school that had its hearing with the Independent Resolution Panel (IRP), on Aug. 9-10. The IRP hasn’t yet issued a final report; its decision is final and there are no appeals.
The other four IARP cases aren’t expected to be finalized until sometime next year.