College Basketball

Two Auburn staffers on leave amid inquiry

Two Auburn men’s basketball staff members were put on administrative leave Monday as a result of the university’s investigation into the program, according to school officials. The fate of coach Bruce Pearl, who sources have said refuses to cooperate, is still uncertain.

“The Auburn Athletics Department has placed men’s basketball support staff members Jordan VerHulst and Frankie Sullivan on administrative leave until further notice,” the school said in a statement.

Sources indicated to ESPN that VerHulst and Sullivan’s actions were related to the same type of issues that the FBI uncovered in its investigation of former Tigers associate head coach Chuck Person, who was arrested Sept. 26.

Sullivan became the program’s eighth all-time leading scorer by his senior year in 2013 and played briefly in Europe. He returned to Auburn and worked two seasons as a graduate assistant before being promoted to video coordinator this year, which is the job VerHulst held for three seasons until he was named special assistant to the head coach. VerHulst came to Auburn from Memphis, where he worked from 2009 to 2014 as video coordinator.

As ESPN reported Wednesday, Pearl has refused to cooperate in the school’s internal investigation, and university officials have told him that his job is in jeopardy if he doesn’t, according to sources with knowledge of the dispute.

Sources told ESPN last week that Pearl has refused to talk to attorneys conducting the university’s investigation; they have been unable to determine whether Pearl was involved in NCAA violations or other wrongdoing because FBI agents seized his computers and cellphones as part of their investigation.

Auburn officials haven’t given Pearl a deadline to cooperate, but sources told ESPN that a decision on his future will be made in the next week or so.

School officials retained a law firm to conduct an internal investigation after Person’s arrest as part of the FBI’s inquiry into college basketball corruption. Person was indicted on six federal charges by a grand jury in New York on Tuesday.

Pearl, a former ESPN analyst, is in his fourth season as Auburn’s coach. Auburn hired Pearl in March 2014, about five months before his NCAA show-cause penalty for violations committed at Tennessee was scheduled to expire. The Volunteers fired Pearl in 2011 after he lied to NCAA investigators about the recruitment of prospect Aaron Craft, who ultimately signed with Ohio State. The NCAA punished Pearl with a three-year show-cause, which prohibited him from having contact with recruits during that time.

At the time of Pearl’s hiring, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said he believed Pearl “has learned from his mistakes.”

Person, who is Auburn’s all-time leading scorer and earned the moniker “The Rifleman” during his NBA career, was among 10 men arrested as part of the FBI investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York accused Person and the others of using bribes to influence star players’ choice of schools, shoe sponsors, agents and financial planners.

A federal complaint released Sept. 26 alleged that Person received $ 91,500 in bribes from former NBA referee Rashan Michel and others and that Person allegedly gave $ 18,500 to the parents of two previously unidentified players. The school has said that Person is no longer employed by the athletics department.

Auburn announced earlier this month that it was keeping basketball players Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley out of games indefinitely in an attempt to “avoid any potential eligibility issues.”

The Tigers opened the season with a 102-74 victory over Norfolk State on Friday night, and they play Indiana State in the Charleston Classic in Charleston, South Carolina, on Thursday.

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www.espn.com – NCB

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