By Alex Norman
Bruce Pearl is waiting… just as he has been since March of 2011, when he was relieved of his duties as Tennessee men’s basketball coach.
In August of that same year, the NCAA slapped a three-year show-cause penalty on Pearl, stemming from recruiting violations in the now famous “Aaron Craft BBQ” saga. That penalty, for all intents and purposes, made Pearl un-hirable in the college ranks.
Pearl had lied to the NCAA, later coming clean about his error in judgment, but the damage had been done.
Fast forward a few years, as the NCAA finally announces their findings in an investigation into the University of Miami athletic department last month.
In men’s basketball, then Hurricanes coach Frank Haith changed his story on numerous occasions as it concerned his dealings with booster Nevin Shapiro, but said he was always truthful with NCAA investigators.
According to that NCAA report, Haith (now the head coach at Missouri) admitted to funneling money to Shapiro, who was threatening to go to the NCAA to talk about their investigation into the Miami basketball program.
In a statement released by the University of Missouri athletic department, Haith said, “While I strongly disagree with today’s (October 22) report, and the inference on how the program was run at the University of Miami, as head basketball coach during that period, I accept responsibility for all actions in and around that program. This has been an excruciating ordeal for my family. An appeal, which would likely drag further into the season, would only prolong what has already been a lengthy and trying period of time for our student-athletes, the University of Missouri and our fans, and it’s time for closure.”
So here is Haith’s penalty. A 5 game suspension. He will miss matchups against the following teams. Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb and IUPUI.
In comparison, Pearl was suspended 8 games by the SEC… before the NCAA had made any kind of decision. Then came the 3 year show-cause.
In what world are these two rulings consistent?
The immediate reaction on social media was pretty much what you would expect… a complete roasting of the NCAA. At the same time, there was growing level of sympathy for Pearl, a guy that while beloved in Knoxville, had his share of enemies in the media and in the sport of basketball as well.
Dan Wetzel, the well-respected columnist at Yahoo Sports tweeted, “I’ve got to review the Bruce Pearl case, but no idea how he got a 1,000-times stronger penalty than Frank Haith.”
Clay Travis, from OutkickTheCoverage.com and Fox Sports tweeted, “When you look at what Frank Haith did – paid off a felon booster to avoid NCAA issues – how did he get 5 games & Pearl got 3 years?”
Pete Thamel, senior writer at Sports Illustrated, might have said it best when he tweeted, “This ruling will become the ultimate example of what we already knew. There’s absolutely no incentive to follow NCAA rules.”
And that is the real shame here. Pearl lied, admitted the lie, and had his career derailed because of it. In retrospect, Pearl should have lawyered up and let the process play out. (The University of Tennessee did him no favors in terms of protection either, but that is another story for another time.)
Had Pearl kept quiet, there is a good chance he is still coaching at Tennessee today.
Haith basically kept “remembering” facts, while never admitting guilt. He moved to greener pastures and was slapped on the wrist by the NCAA.
For his part, Pearl has taken the high road. He now works as the VP of Marketing at H.T. Hackney Company and does studio work for ESPN (which is so ironic considering how the “Bruce Pearl Timeline” graphic was shown approximately 672 times during every Tennessee game in that 2010-2011 season).
Pearl has kept quiet, and will be in line for another coaching opportunity in the future. Will that come next year? That’d be tough since the show-cause runs until August 2014, right before the 2014-2015 season would begin. That means recruiting would be limited, as would developing any kind of relationship with current players.
So Pearl will continue to wait. But the joke is no longer on him.
Your laughter should be pointed towards the NCAA, the collegiate athletics governing organization that apparently throws a dart at the wall when deciding on a course of action.