Tennessee's self-imposed sanctions on coach Bruce Pearl and his staff will be undeniably hard on recruiting. While there could be more penalties coming from the NCAA at some point, right now, based on these self sanctions, it looks like the Vols have the ability to weather the storm.
The self-imposed sanctions that will impact recruiting the most are the off-campus recruiting bans imposed on Pearl (one year), assistant coach Steve Forbes (one year), associate head coach Tony Jones (nine months) and assistant coach Jason Shay (three months). Pearl, Jones and Forbes have done the lion's share of the recruiting in the past, but will now be forced to adjust their roles in the future.
Make no mistake about it, not being on the road hurts. While coaches can look at film of players, it's not the same as seeing them play in person. There is something to be said for being seen by a recruit at his game even if you can't talk to him. It shows you're interested and recruits notice who is watching. Coaches are allowed seven total recruiting opportunities (contacts and evaluations combined) per prospect during the academic year, and missing those opportunities could put Tennessee at a big disadvantage. The majority of the staff is going to miss the high school season, and Pearl and Forbes will miss the summer evaluation period. One SEC assistant coach said, "That would kill us if we couldn't be out on the road when everyone else is."
The good news for Tennessee is that Pearl & Co. have a small window to make some things happen on the recruiting trail. Their ban from off-campus recruiting begins on the Sept. 24, but coaches have been allowed to visit prospects at the high schools and also do in-home visits with the prospects and their families since Sept. 9. (The contact period runs through Oct. 5.) This will be an important damage control opportunity for Pearl to touch as many bases as possible and get the message out that everything is fine and that the program will deal with the adversity and move forward.
Another positive in Tennessee's favor is the fact that they already have two ESPNU 100 players in the fold for the 2011 class. Four-star point guard Chris Jones (Memphis, Tenn./Oak Ridge Academy) and four-star shooting guard Kevin Ware (Conyers, Ga./Rockdale County) are sure to be a major focus of the Tennessee staff. It would make sense for the staff to use the majority of their allowable contacts/evaluations on them prior to the sanctions beginning on the 24th.
Educating and communicating with the committed prospects regarding the current situation will be one phase of Tennessee's recruiting plan, but making sure other key targets don't get scared off will be just as -- if not more -- important. ESPNU 100 players like Adonis Thomas (Memphis, Tenn./Melrose), Ben McLemore (St Louis, Mo./Oak Hill), Jakarr Sampson (Akron, Ohio/Brewster Academy), Trevor Lacey (Huntsville, Ala./Butler) and Dom Pointer (Roseville, Mich./Quality Education) are all considering Tennessee. Expect the coaches to keep after these players and try to land them in the early signing period, which begins on Nov. 10. The Vols likely have four scholarships to hand out for the 2011 class, and if these players don't sign with the Vols early, it would seem almost impossible to get them in the late period.
The biggest challenge will be for the 2012 and 2013 classes. Logic dictates that the Vols will fall behind other schools who are able to get out on the road and build relationships with younger players. Now that they know that the majority of their recruiting will be done on-campus, part of the blueprint the Vols are sure to follow will involve landing as many unofficial on-campus visits as possible from underclassmen in the 2012 and 2013 classes. It will be important to get the prospects to come to them to watch a basketball practice, or a game, or catch a football weekend. Video evaluations will also be a big part of the staff's recruiting scheme. The ability to watch a player on video and talk with him about it will be the staff's way of trying to make up ground for not being able to be there in person. And if they can keep up the recruiting that way, Pearl will be able to go back out on the road during the contact period at this time in 2011. He will be able to go face-to-face with recruits and families, and try to close on players in the 2012 class.
How this impact Tennessee's recruiting from here on out will also depend on what the NCAA decides to do in reaction to the school's self-imposed penalties, but any discussion on that front is too speculative. The self-imposed penalties are severe, there is no doubt about it, but they are manageable. There are going to be plenty of challenges, but Pearl seems to handle adversity well (see last season's Tennessee upset of No. 1 Kansas despite a depleted roster) and he's been a proven winner throughtout his career, especially at Tennessee. The Vols have recruited well recently and have a talented roster in place right now. If the Vols can keep the 2011 class in tact and minimize the damage for Classes of 2012 and 2013, Tennessee should get through this rough period.
Paul Biancardi, who has been a head coach and assistant on NCAA tournament teams, is the national director of basketball recruiting for ESPN.com. Mike LaPlante, a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting, has over 20 years of coaching and recruiting experience.