Of all the college cheating stories I’ve come across, the latest one involving Bruce Pearl and Tennessee basketball might be the funniest one of the lot. There’s nothing funny about college athletics and the almost-weekly stories we read or hear about cheating, but it was Pearl’s comments at a Friday press conference that were laughable.
Hats off, first of all, to University of Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton, who not only came down hard on Pearl, but slapped his assistant basketball coaches around too, making certain they didn’t get off unscathed.
Rather than waiting for the NCAA to punish his employees, Hamilton did the right thing Friday and did it himself.
Hamilton, of course, could have burned the whole program down by firing Pearl and the assistant staff, but that probably wouldn’t have helped the athletic program at Tennessee. Firing people with guaranteed deals means you have to pay them the remaining monies owed under their contracts and then you have to go out and bring new people in — which requires even MORE money and MORE obligation. While firing Pearl would have been justified in this case, it didn’t make much sense.
But that didn’t stop Hamilton from doing the right thing and coming down hard on Bruce Pearl.
In short, Pearl was questioned by the NCAA in June about a number of possible recruiting violations and lied when responding to those questions. The NCAA found out the truth — and nailed Pearl for “misleading them”…which, of course, is the professional way of saying, “you lied to us.”
This whole basketball saga comes on the heels of the NCAA probing Tennessee football and head coach Lane Kiffin, who, like Pearl, will most likely be punished when the NCAA finds his program guilty of recruiting misconduct. Just three days after Kiffin said he doesn’t approve of schools using female ambassadors to escort recruits around campus on recruiting visits, Sports Illustrated published a photo that showed two attractive (by accident, I’m sure) Tennessee sorority sisters with Volunteer football recruits at a game last season. Having scantily clad girls show prospective athletes around campus isn’t illegal per-se, and most big-time schools do it. It’s the notion that Kiffin publicly denounced the concept and then SI published the photos that has everyone in the SEC scoffing at the idea that Kiffin is running a clean program at UT.
But back to Pearl, who made himself out to look like a fool Friday with one sentence at a tearful press conference in which apologized for his part in the recruiting scandal.
The quote of the year: “I learned that it’s not OK to tell the truth most of the time, but you’ve got to tell the truth all the time.”
ALL of the time? You mean after 32 years in college basketball you’re just now figuring that one out?
So for a while there, you figured it might be OK to occasionally fib to the NCAA when they come around asking questions?
What a joke.
It never ceases to amaze me why these goofs like Bruce Pearl and Lane Kiffin don’t just do the smart thing and say, “I’ve been caught cheating. I’m disappointed. There’s nothing else to say, really. I cheated and I got caught. I’ll do my very best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Instead, Pearl authors this great line: “I’ve learned you have to tell the truth all the time…” – as if he just spent 8 hours in the UT library and made a startling discovery by reading something from John Paul Sartre.
And Kiffin isn’t any better. He muttered something about it being “a compliment” when the NCAA investigates your program, saying that means you’ve arrived and other schools and coaches are turning you in for apparent violations because they’re “worried you might beat them”.
Memo to Lane Kiffin: When your program features student-athlete arrests and your program is recruiting players of questionable character and your program is at the center of an investigation from the NCAA — that’s. not. a. compliment.
Ask anyone, Lane.
So kudos to Mike Hamilton for doing the right thing and knocking Bruce Pearl and his staff down a couple of pegs. He’ll get the same opportunity in early 2011 when the NCAA steps up and sanctions the Volunteers football program and their arrogant head coach.