Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl getting hit with an eight-game conference suspension by the SEC was certainly an eye-opener.
When coaches get sanctioned by the NCAA or their school, it’s generally because there is proof that they were directly involved in a violation.
Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman got hit with an eight-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA when he was at Cal Berkley for paying a recruit’s parents over $30,000.
Former Oklahoma and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson was sacked with a 5-year show-cause penalty when it was discovered that he violated NCAA rules by making illegal calls to recruits. Sampson was first penalized by the NCAA for committing the infraction at Oklahoma. The NCAA came down much harder on Sampson after he committed the same violation while he was a head coach at Indiana years later.
Now we get to UConn’s Jim Calhoun. Calhoun was hit with a three-year conference coaching ban next season for “failure to monitor and promote an atmosphere for compliance” by the NCAA yesterday. Connecticut, in addition to losing one scholarship for each of the next three years, was hit with recruiting restrictions and put on three years’ probation.
In addition, one of Calhoun’s assistant coaches, Beau Archibald, lost his job and was hit with a two-year, show-cause penalty. Another assistant, Patrick Sellers, also lost his job.
The violations centered around former team manager Josh Nochimson, who had inappropriate contact with former recruit Nate Miles. The UConn coaching staff was also cited for providing tickets for coaches and other individuals in violation of NCAA rules.
Why is all of this significant? Calhoun was cleared of any direct knowledge of what was going on, yet the NCAA decided to penalize him anyway. In other words, the old “hear no evil, see no evil” routine won’t work with the NCAA anymore.
"We think the penalty is appropriate," said Dennis Thomas, chairman of the Committee on Infractions. "The head coach should be aware, but, also in the same frame, the head coach obviously cannot be aware of everything that goes on within the program. However, the head coach bears that responsibility."
Most observers believe it’s the first time a coach at a major university was sanctioned by the NCAA despite not having any direct involvement in the violation.
Could this be a change in philosophy by the NCAA? Coaches have always avoided the wrath of the NCAA when their assistants or players run afoul of the rule book.
John Calipari came away unscathed when UMass got sanctioned for Marcus Camby receiving gifts and improper benefits from an agent. Calipari also wasn’t touched when Memphis got zapped by the NCAA because an alleged SAT scandal surrounding Chicago Bulls’ point guard Derrick Rose.
Michigan had its NCAA Tournament records vacated and had to repay tourney money from the “Fab Five” years due to violations committed by Chris Webber. Then-Michigan coach Steve Fisher managed to avoid any punishment.
Those days could be over.
If Calhoun and Pearl’s suspensions are any indication of the future, college coaches had better be aware that they are on notice.