Pearl's new deal appears imminent

Look for men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl to sign a multi-year deal at Tennessee before the NCAA Tournament starts in mid-March.

Mike Hamilton, UT men's athletic director, said Friday ``we're pretty far down the road'' in reaching an agreement in principle. ``Whether it's completely done before the end of the regular season, it still needs approval from the UT general counsel.''

Asked if Pearl has a preferred timetable, Hamilton said, ``He hasn't indicated. He said, `Whatever you think.'''

Pearl and Hamilton first began talks several weeks ago. Both have said they don't want Pearl's contract to serve as a distraction.

Surely, Hamilton would like to reach an agreement before other schools come calling – which they will.

Pearl and Hamilton likely will reach an accord within the next 10 days. An announcement could come before the SEC Tournament, which begins March 9.

Pearl is expected to sign a five-year contract that will start out at about $1.1 million and escalate to perhaps as high as $1.4 million.

``I think Bruce wants to be at Tennessee,'' Hamilton said.

And Hamilton and thousands of UT fans want Pearl to be at Tennessee.

Pearl isn't likely to get more than a five-year contract. When football coach Phillip Fulmer got a seven-year deal, the UT Board of Trustees expressed concern about the length of the agreement. While it is not a formal mandate, the Board would prefer no contracts exceed five years.

Some would argue that Pearl should have his $800,000 salary doubled. Indeed, he has had a huge financial impact on the men's basketball program.

Entering Saturday's Arkansas game, concessions were up $275,000 over the same time as last year and ticket sales were up $325,000. With two home games remaining – both likely to be sellouts – the men's program will realize an increase of about $700,000 in those two areas.

That is significant because men's basketball has paid $400,000 of a $1.4 million loan for the Buzz Peterson buyout and paid Wisconsin-Milwaukee $192,000 for Pearl's buyout when he left the school in April. That's a total of $592,000.

Pearl's value doesn't stop there. UT has sold all 32 luxury boxes at $50,000 annually. That's $1.6 million. UT had five commitments before this season. Sixteen of the skyboxes seat 16 and 16 more seat 10.

It's hard to put a number on the increase in souvenir sales and the economic impact on the city, given that attendance has increase by 5,000 per game.

All 84 courtside seats are accounted for at between one-time fees of $30,000 to $50,000. There were 66 last season, 84 this season.

UT also just made the final installment on the Jerry Green buyout, sending him a $200,000 check in January. Green got $1.1 million over five years.

Hamilton said the basketball revenue windfall has been a blessing considering the athletic department began the year almost $4 million in the hole: $3.25 million for one fewer home football game, $400,000 for the Peterson loan payment and $192,000 for the Pearl buyout, not to mention another $300,000 for the departure of three assistants.

The man who has had to tackle balancing the books is chief financial officer Bill Myers.

``Bill Myers has been a Godsend,'' Hamilton said. So has Pearl.

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