Auburn Players Suspended — But Not Head Coach Bruce Pearl?

Auburn just announced that it will be “holding out” mens basketball players Austin Wiley and Daniel Purifoy ”indefinitely.” This is, Auburn says, to “avoid any potential eligibility issues.”


Auburn skipped a step.

The indictment a month ago of Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person moved Auburn to quickly suspend Person without pay. But because of the NCAA’s head coach ‘vicarious liability’ adopted in 2014, Auburn should have, at the same time, suspended head coach Bruce Pearl, without pay.

The vicarious liability rule is simple: any wrongdoing by an assistant coach is imputed to the coach.  What’s Person’s wrongdoing, is Pearl’s wrongdoing. And, just as the lack of final, complete proof of wrongdoing did not prevent Auburn from suspending Person, so also does the lack of final, complete proof of Pearl’s wrongdoing prevent Auburn from suspending Pearl. Person’s suspension requires Pearl’s suspension.

That’s the step which Auburn skipped. Instead, Auburn jumped straight ahead, to quickly sanction two players. This is because of that old NCAA rule that if there exists some colorable question about a player’s eligibility, the school must hold that player out, until the question is resolved. If the school fails to do so, and the player is later found by the NCAA to have been ineligible, then all games in which the player participated will be fofeited or ‘vacated.”

But the suspension of the two players should have made Pearl’s suspension all the more necessary, suggesting as they do that, based upon Auburn’s own internal initial review, there existed some good faith basis for believing that Persons alleged wrongdoings have both some apparent basis, but also some connection to the players.

(It is not unfair or irrelevant that Pearl had previously been subject to NCAA sanction, and show cause order, for circumstances when he was head coach at Tennessee, and had been found to have lied to NCAA investigators. This proven predilection to lie ought to make Auburn and Tennessee all the more suspicious of any protestions now by Pearl that he knew nothing about the transgressions alleged about Person.)

At this point, Pearl has to be suspended without pay.

About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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