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Auburn Men's Basketball Hit With Sanctions Stemming From 2017 FBI Probe

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Auburn men's basketball was hit with major sanctions by The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions (COI) on Friday, resulting in a two-game suspension for head coach Bruce Pearl, one-year show cause for an unnamed assistant coach and a 10-year show cause for Chuck Person.

Additionally, the program will face recruiting and scholarship reductions but were not handed a postseason ban. The program will face four years of probation from December 10, 2021 through December 9, 2025. 

"This case also involved a head coach responsibility violation because the head coach was unable to demonstrate that he promoted an atmosphere of compliance and monitored the associate head coach's actions," COI said in its decision. "Additional violations occurred when the associate head coach and an assistant coach failed to cooperate during the NCAA investigation. Finally, this case involved allegations that the assistant coach was involved in paying a walk-on student-athlete's tuition, but the panel determined that the violation was not demonstrated."

The case stemmed from the 2017 FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball and centered on former assistant Person accepting bribes—$91,500, per COI—from a financial advisor in exchange for steering players their way, including scheduling meetings with the advisor for the two players and their parents. Person was fired and pled guilty to federal bribery charges, but the full extent of the NCAA probe into the school was not known until Friday's ruling by the Committee on Infractions. The charges against Auburn are some of the most aggressive in recent infractions case history.

"The associate head coach violated the trust of his student-athletes and their families," the panel said in its decision. "Rather than protect them, he intentionally brought opportunists into the Auburn men's basketball program and, using his influence, introduced them to the student-athletes and their families."

Because the two players and their families were provided with cash and other benefits, the duo competed while ineligible, per NCAA bylaws related to inducements and benefits. 

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The panel also determined Pearl "failed to rebut his presumed responsibility because he did not demonstrate that he promoted an atmosphere of compliance in his program and adequately monitored the associate head coach." 

"In short, the manner in which the men's basketball program operated did not reflect an atmosphere where compliance was a top priority."

For nearly two years, Auburn refused to release its Notice of Allegations from the NCAA, denying public records requests from media outlets, thus keeping the charges against Pearl and other allegations against the school shielded from public knowledge. Per the panel, Person "declined to participate at all stages of the investigation and processing of this case" and also "refused to participate in an interview, provide information, respond to the allegations or participate in the infractions hearing."

The unnamed assistant coach, however, initially cooperated, but "citing personal circumstances, he declined multiple requests from the enforcement staff to participate in a third interview relating to newly-discovered information."

The school self-imposed a postseason ban early in the 2020-21 season, which the Tigers finished with a 13-14 record and were never a serious contender to make the NCAA Tournament field. This year's Auburn team is 7-1 and ranked 18th in the AP poll.

This is Pearl's second major infractions case as a head coach, having previously received a three-year show-cause penalty in 2011 for lying to NCAA investigators in a probe of his program while at Tennessee. Pearl was out of coaching from 2011-14, when he was hired at Auburn. He led the Tigers to their first Final Four in program history in 2019 and has endeared himself to the fan base.

Pat Forde contributed to this story.