Did Auburn, Bruce Pearl violate their own secret, self-imposed recruiting ban?

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“I do feel like the worst is behind us.”

That is what Bruce Pearl said to Jon Rothstein on a podcast two weeks ago, and they may end up being the words that he regrets the most.

Actually, that’s not true.

What he’ll regret is opening the door into having his program’s recruiting timeline scrutinized.

On that same podcast, Pearl hinted that Auburn had already started serving self-imposed penalties as they away the inevitable Notice of Allegations from the NCAA. Some digging by AL.com led to a story that the school “did not conduct recruiting of any kind from September 2017-April 2018,” and an Auburn spokesperson released a statement to NBC Sports saying that “Auburn took a proactive approach by self-imposing recruiting restrictions that limited unofficial visits, official visits, contacts, evaluations and phone calls.”

Well, that may not be entirely true.

You see, Auburn was doing some recruiting during that period of time. For example, there’s this picture from Rivals reporter Dan McDonald, which features two future Auburn commits (Babatunde Akingbola and Isaac Okoro) as well as five-star 2020 target Sharife Cooper visiting Auburn. That picture was posted on Feb. 3rd, 2018, which fell smack in the middle of Auburn’s alleged self-imposed recruiting ban. Akingbola committed to Auburn on Jan. 11th, 2018. Yahoo’s Pat Forde dug up a couple of other examples of Auburn continuing to recruit while they were supposedly serving a self-imposed ban.

There are two things that are worth noting here.

For starters, Auburn’s statement, the one released to NBC Sports, used the word “limited” when referring to visits, contacts and evaluations. Not banned. Not prohibited. “Limited.” That language is important, and often when sanctions are self-imposed or delivered by the NCAA, there are simply restrictions put into place instead of recruiting being stopped for an extended period of time.

It’s also important to point out that an Auburn spokesman told both Yahoo and AL.com that exceptions were made to accommodate visits and trips that were planned prior to Person’s arrest in September of 2017. That, according to the school, explains away the picture of the Auburn prospects on campus.

The truth, it seems, is going to come down to how the school frames these punishments when dealing with the NCAA, but given that Bruce Pearl had his Tennessee tenure end because he tried to create an elaborate cover-up of Aaron Craft visiting his house for a barbecue, it’s only fitting that Auburn could wind up in more trouble with the NCAA because they couldn’t find a way to follow their own recruiting restrictions.