Dec 16th, 2021 |
80: Auburn’s Fake Pearl
On December 10, 2021, the NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) issued a head-scratching decision in the Auburn University basketball “scandal” case. Despite finding that Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl committed a Level I (most egregious) violation because of his failure to adequately monitor lead assistant coach Chuck Person—a former Auburn and NBA basketball star—Pearl received a merely tap on the wrist. Person was swept up in an FBI sting in which a professional athlete financial advisor (and FBI informant) paid Person to steer NBA-quality Auburn players to the advisor. The advisor—Marty Blazer—faced decades of jail time in a completely unrelated case and used his knowledge of “corruption” in college basketball—and his cooperation with the FBI— to avoid jail time. Person accepted money from Blazer/FBI and paid a small amount to two athletes and their parents. Person was arrested in September 2017 and charged with multiple counts of wire fraud and honest services crimes under federal law. Auburn immediately fired Person and suspended the athletes implicated in the transactions. Person pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two hundred hours of community service and two years of probation. After the criminal case, the NCAA began its infractions and enforcement action against Auburn and at least eleven other universities caught up in the “scandal." After three years of investigation, the NCAA issued its opinion last Friday. Although the tone of the NCAA’s opinion was noticeably more charitable than previous basketball “scandal”-related opinions, the NCAA threw the book at Person through a “show cause” order that made Person unemployable. Head Coach Bruce Pearl, the darling of ESPN and a “made man” in the high-level basketball coaching community, continues to draw a $4 million salary. Even more puzzling was that when Auburn hired Pearl he was under a three-year “show cause” order for Level I violations in 2011 when he was the head coach at Tennessee. Auburn’s hiring of Pearl was unprecedented in college sports because a primary purpose of a show cause order is to make a coach unemployable for its duration. This episode analyzes the Auburn decision and the disparate treatment for “made men” like Pearl and the dispensable underlings like Person and the athletes.