Louisville's Rick Pitino has been put on administrative leave, with the understanding that he'll eventually be officially fired. Will another head coach suffer the same fate? In the aftermath of the FBI's world-rattling investigation into bribery and fraud in college basketball recruiting, one coach in particular has been caught in the middle: Auburn's Bruce Pearl.
Auburn assistant Chuck Person was charged with corruption and bribery crimes Tuesday morning by authorities, then suspended without pay by Auburn later in the day for his role in the scheme. Person is the only Auburn employee named in the FBI's case. Auburn has hired attorneys with Lightfoot, Franklin and White law firm, in an effort to independently review its men's basketball program.
The story has created a smear on college basketball, and for Pearl specifically, it's an undesirable and uncomfortable affiliation to have. Aside from Pitino, Pearl is the only head coach connected to a school tied to the FBI investigation who also has a history with NCAA violations. Pearl infamously was dealt a three-year show-cause penalty in 2011 by the NCAA after it was discovered he lied to investigators, and tried to conspire to get others to lie as well, about then-recruit Aaron Craft attending a cookout at Pearl's home while he was coach at Tennessee.
Pearl has not been named in the FBI's case. A source close to the situation told CBS Sports that Pearl had not been contacted by the FBI as of Wednesday afternoon, and that Pearl is not in fear of losing his job.
But it's an uneasy time at Auburn, and Pearl's boss, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs, has faced increased pressure as well. Jacobs has come under scrutiny within the past month after a softball scandal that included multiple allegations of sexual abuse by a former coach. The focus of the FBI's investigation for now, as it pertains to Auburn, is related to Person. But Jacobs and Pearl have been wrangled into this issue and figure to be held publicly accountable to a certain extent.
On Wednesday, Auburn postponed a planned Pearl press conference for the second consecutive day, according to AL.com. The school is also offering full refunds on season tickets to men's basketball games.
As for Pearl's contract, it runs through June 30, 2020, and contains language that could become relevant if Auburn or the NCAA wind up viewing Pearl responsible for Person running afoul of the program and the law.
According to article 13, section b of Pearl's contract with Auburn, "Coach will at all times exercise due care to ensure that all persons under his supervision or subject to his control or authority as listed in Exhibit A to this Agreement, shall abide by said rules and regulations. Pursuant to NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52, Coach understands that he is presumed to be responsible for the actions of all persons who are directly or indirectly under his supervision or subject to his control or authority, and further that he is responsible for promoting an atmosphere of compliance within the program and monitoring the conduct of those persons under his supervision or subject to his control or authority. Coach further understands and acknowledges that he shall observe and respect the principles of institutional control of every aspect of the men's basketball program with reasonable efforts. University and Coach agree there may be individuals outside the men's official basketball program who engage in impermissible actions beyond Coach's control and without his knowledge, and, as such, Coach cannot, and should not, be held responsible for those individuals and their actions provided he neither knew nor should have reasonably known of their impermissible actions."
In section e, a clause states: "Coach agrees that he is presumed responsible for the actions of all persons under his supervision."
Auburn can fire with cause if the school, the SEC or the NCAA concludes with "reasonable basis" that anyone on Pearl's staff was "involved in significant or repetitive violations of University, SEC or NCAA rules or regulations and Coach failed to act reasonably to prevent, limit, mitigate or report any such violation(s)."
Pearl is in the clear for now, but what comes next is crucial. How much information Person gives, and whether he implicates others, could be the deciding factor for how much time he has to spend in jail, how much trouble -- if any -- the Auburn basketball program gets in, and whether Pearl has any connection to the case.
There has already been fallout for the men's basketball program. On Wednesday, Auburnfrom a four-star forward in the class of 2018. Pearl is trying to put out fires with current recruits, and Auburn -- potentially -- could get caught in the NCAA's crosshairs with player eligibility if it's discovered that any current Tigers players were recruited to the program by Person (or possibly other coaches) and done so by nefarious means.