Sports

N.C.A.A. Follows Familiar Pattern in Punishment for Auburn

Bruce Pearl, the coach of Auburn men’s basketball, was suspended for two games on Friday and the N.C.A.A. accepted a series of the school’s self-imposed bans over the last several years as punishment for a former assistant coach, Chuck Person, funneling cash to players.

The case is among nearly a dozen that are tied to a federal corruption investigation targeting college basketball more than four years ago. Pearl escaped virtually unscathed even though the N.C.A.A. categorized the violations as its most serious (Level 1) and cited him for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance. He had previously been hit with a three-year show-cause penalty after lying to N.C.A.A. investigators while at Tennessee.

The infraction committee’s report also outlined a case involving another former assistant coach, Harris Adler, who was accused of sending money to a grass-roots basketball coach to pay the tuition of a walk-on. The infractions committee ultimately said the allegations could not be corroborated even though the youth coach had provided copies of money orders he said came from Adler.

The resolution of Auburn’s case follows a similar pattern. For all the bluster from federal prosecutors when the indictments were announced — “We have your playbook,” the F.B.I.’s William Sweeney said — and all the tough talk of cracking down from a commission organized by the N.C.A.A., there have been few repercussions for the richly rewarded head coaches who run the programs.

Only Rick Pitino, who was fired at Louisville, directly lost his job over the case.

Sean Miller coached until his contract expired last season at Arizona. Louisiana State Coach Will Wade was suspended for the final five games of the 2018-19 season before being reinstated. Andy Enfield at Southern California was not sanctioned. Neither was Kansas Coach Bill Self — at least not by the school, which has a case still winding its way through the N.C.A.A. enforcement process.

In Auburn’s case, Person — the former Auburn star player and longtime N.B.A. forward — was hit with a 10-year show-cause penalty for accepting $91,500 in bribes from a financial adviser in exchange for influencing players to sign with the adviser when they began their pro careers. Person delivered some of that money to two players, Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, who were each suspended for the 2017-18 season. Each returned the following season to help Auburn reach the Final Four for the first time.

Adler, who left Auburn after the 2017-18 season while the school was being investigated, received a one-year show-cause penalty.

(Adler was replaced on the Auburn staff by Ira Bowman, who was suspended for nearly three months while Auburn investigated his involvement in a scheme at the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, Bowman had been an assistant to Jerome Allen, who pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe to help an applicant get into the school as a basketball player even though he never played at the school. Allen testified that Bowman knew what was happening. Bowman remains an assistant at Auburn.)

Auburn and Pearl said in a statement that they accepted the N.C.A.A. penalties. Pearl will not coach his team, 7-1 and ranked 18th, on Saturday against Nebraska in Atlanta or against North Alabama at home on Tuesday.

While the N.C.A.A.’s Rice Commission, headed by Condoleezza Rice, recommended stiffer penalties for serious and repeat offenders — five-year tournament bans for programs and lifetime bans for head coaches — the infractions committee essentially looked at the penalties that Auburn had already imposed and said they were good enough.

The Tigers, just before the start of last season — at a time when the coronavirus pandemic made the prospect of an N.C.A.A. tournament uncertain — announced that it would forgo playing the tournament as penance for its transgressions. (Auburn, which was picked eighth in the Southeastern Conference, finished 13-14 last season.)

The school had also docked itself one scholarship, reduced its recruiting visits to 20 during a two-year span, banned unofficial recruiting visits and recruiting phone calls for almost five months and did not recruit in person for 82 days.

The only penalties the N.C.A.A. heaped on top were four years of probation and a fine of $5,000 plus 3 percent of the men’s basketball budget.

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