Auburn took a risk in 2014 by hiring Bruce Pearl, who entered the program under a show-cause penalty from recruiting violations at Tennessee, and now that risk has backfired in the most tremendous way possible. The FBI’s investigation into college basketball caught associate head coach Chuck Person in its web, placing Auburn in the center of college basketball’s biggest scandal since the 1950s
Auburn has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2003, but bit by bit the Tigers had made progress in three years under Pearl, posting an 18-14 record last year. Now it appears that progress will crumble away.
Already, the Tigers are seeing the fallout. For the fourth straight year, Auburn had sold out its season ticket allotment, but now the school is issuing refunds to season-ticket holders. E.J. Montgomery, a top-40 recruit in the Class of 2018, decommitted from the program on Wednesday afternoon.
The FBI’s report also named Auburn center Austin Wiley, although it’s unclear if Wiley, a potential first-round pick in 2018, actually did anything to compromise his college eligibility. AL.com’s Julie Bennett speculated that one of Mustapha Heron or Danjel Purifoy, the team’s two leading scorers from last season, is involved. Appearing in the NIT (yes, that would be a big deal for this program) and sending multiple players to the NBA draft was a likely possibility just a few days. We’ll see if and how much the roster and coaching staff change before the season begins Nov. 10.
At least their fans can see a silver lining.
In a positive note, the US Attorney's office just called Auburn a "top tier basketball program."
— WarBlogle.com (@WarBlogle) September 26, 2017
Those are just the short-term effects. A major scandal like this changes a program’s entire future. Person joined Auburn’s staff when Pearl was hired in 2014 after over a decade as a professional assistant in the NBA and overseas. According to the FBI investigation, Person accepted bribes as part of a scheme to direct players to financial adviser Marty Blazer and custom-clothing designer Rashan Michel, a former NBA official. Person has been charged with bribery conspiracy, solicitation of bribes, honest services fraud conspiracy, honest services fraud, wire fraud conspiracy and travel act conspiracy.
Montgomery was Auburn’s only commit in the Class of 2018, but Pearl has extended scholarship offers to several other top 100 recruits, according to 247Sports. They’re also competing with Kentucky for Ashton Hagans, one of the top point guards in the Class of 2019. You can count on none of those guys touching Auburn with a 10-foot pole now.
We already saw Louisville coach Rick Pitino claim ignorance to similar allegations at his program, but that didn’t save his job. And it likely won’t save Louisville from severe NCAA penalties. There’s every reason to believe Pearl and Auburn are heading down a similar, worst-case-scenario path. And unlike Louisville, Auburn does not have any basketball history to lean on when it’s time to rebuild again.