Kind gesture by Tennessee coach Rick Barnes results in minor NCAA violation

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes watches a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Columbia, S.C. Tennessee defeated South Carolina 70-63. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

At a time when college basketball is overrun with coaches who are entertaining recruits with strippers or accepting bribes from unscrupulous agents, Rick Barnes somehow ran afoul of the NCAA rulebook for a goodwill gesture.

The Tennessee coach had the audacity to supplement an underpaid assistant’s salary out of his own pocket during the 2016-17 season.

Barnes was unhappy that second-year assistant coach Desmond Oliver made less money than fellow assistant Mike Schwartz, The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported Thursday. When school administrators told Barnes that they didn’t money available to offer Oliver a raise, Barnes took matters into his own hands and paid him the difference himself.

“It was important to me that Des Oliver made the same amount of money,” Barnes told the News-Sentinel. “I just felt those two positions needed to be equal. They felt it wasn’t in the budget. I just said, ‘I am going to pay it myself.’”

Barnes told the News-Sentinel that he didn’t realize his kind-hearted act flouted NCAA rules until he mentioned what he was doing to a supervisor. Only then did he discover that he was in violation of an NCAA rule that prohibits athletic department staff members from receiving supplemental pay from outside sources.

“An outside source is prohibited from paying or regularly supplementing an athletics department staff member’s annual salary and from arranging to supplement that salary for an unspecified achievement,” rule says. “This includes the donation of cash from outside sources to the institution earmarked for the staff member’s salary or supplemental income.”

Tennessee self-reported Barnes’ mistake in October and received a Level III NCAA violation. Such violations typically result in very minor penalties if any at all.

Regardless, it’s still ridiculous that school administrators had to waste time reporting this violation.  Too many petty rules like this one continue to choke the system and prevent administrators at the school, conference and NCAA levels from focusing on what’s important.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!