NCAA Collapse Likely Ends Pearl's Tenure

Less than a year ago, Bruce Pearl was arguably on top of the college basketball world or at least very close to it. The personable coach of the Tennessee Volunteers was just one year into a new six year contract that could earn him $15 million or more. Today it seems inevitable that he will be out of coaching soon and perhaps for a very long time.

A year ago he had just led Tennessee to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, a first in the history of the program. The Vols came within one basket of making their first trip to the Final Four. Now his team quits in the second half, getting outscored 42-16 in a humiliating loss to Michigan. That's quite an unusual way for his team to say, "Happy Birthday Coach."

Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton opened Pandora's Box the other day when he discussed Pearl's status on a Knoxville radio show. His public pronouncement that he couldn't say whether or not Pearl would be back for a sixth season in Rocky Top was pretty much a death knell for the Pearl era. The tipping point appeared to be the NCAA finding Pearl bumping into a prospect a "major violation" since it came four days after his tearful apology for his other rules violations and lying to NCAA investigators.

Bruce Pearl led Tennessee to the NCAA tournament each year he was in Big Orange country. He was battling Kentucky and Florida for SEC East supremacy and was one of the most interesting and personable guys in the league. What has happened in the last year is bad for Tennessee, bad for the SEC and bad for college basketball. But as much as I like Pearl, it's hard to muster much sympathy for a man who is about to succumb to a self-inflicted wound. writer Andy Katz put it very well earlier Friday:

Tennessee men's basketball became relevant under Pearl as the Vols reached six straight NCAA tournaments for the first time ever, reached No. 1 in the country in 2008 and got to the Elite Eight last season. But they also had a coach who was a lightning rod for attention.

This season was chaos defined. Pearl couldn't coach for eight SEC games, and associate coach Tony Jones replaced him. Tennessee beat Villanova in New York and Pitt in Pittsburgh, but lost at Charlotte and to Oakland and Charleston at home. Tennessee could have avoided this mess by making a decision to cut Pearl loose when the lie came to light in September. Instead, the school and Hamilton stuck with Pearl throughout the season, only to sabotage the players' chances -- or at least provide a giant distraction -- two days before their first game in the NCAA tournament.


While Pearl may deserve his apparent fate, Jim Tressel is getting off easy even if he does end up sitting out five games. Pearl's biggest NCAA violation was entertaining kids on unofficial visits at his home. It only became a career threatening event when he lied about it.

Tressel on the other hand knew that several of his best players might be ineligible back in April yet kept the information to himself and let the guys play. Compounding the problem, the ethically challenged self righteous hypocrite allowed the school to tell the NCAA they "just heard" of the allegation in late November. There may be a difference between an outright lie and letting someone lie on your behalf, but it's a microscopically thin one. The NCAA should punish Ohio State FAR more severely than Tennessee and that punishment is likely to include forfeiture of all of Ohio State's wins last season.

It seems the Buckeyes are still winless in bowls against the SEC after all.

Fightin Gators Top Stories