Pants on Fire

The NCAA slipped the invoice under Tennessee’s door on Wednesday. Then, the university released it to the world for viewing, minus a few redactions. More on that later.

First, the timeline. Tennessee has 90 days to respond to NCAA’s 26-page Notice of Allegations regarding the Vol football and men’s basketball programs. The university will then make an appearance before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis, anticipated to be June 10 and 11. A convenient time – long after the basketball season has finished and long enough before kickoff in September.

For Tennessee head basketball coach Bruce Pearl, Vanderbilt on Tuesday night proved a much easier foe than himself. Photo by Mark Humphrey (Associated Press).

Squarely in the NCAA’s bullseye are men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl and former head football coach Lane Kiffin – 12 major violations were alleged against the two programs, without potential punishments or sanctions being listed. NCAA’s investigation of Vol athletic programs, which also included Vol baseball, had been undertaken since April 2009, only four months after Lane Kiffin made us believe we would scale the heights of Big Rock Candy Mountain, no matter the means or cost.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the football program will likely be let off with not much more than losing a fingernail or two. However, it is Bruce Pearl and his Baller Vols that are the subject of much speculation – losing a limb or two are in the cards of possibility.

Pearl was alleged to have operated with “impermissible contact with prospective student-athletes during an unofficial visit, acting contrary to the principles of ethical conduct, failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance, and failure to monitor the activities regarding compliance of all assistant coaches within the men’s basketball program.” His assistant coaches didn’t miss the buckshot spray, being accused to have failed to “furnish full and complete information relevant to the investigation.” The staff is being fingered with making 96 impermissible phone calls over a two-year period (Aug 2007-Jul 2009).

Charges against Kiffin and company include 16 impermissible phone calls in January 2010 to recruits that are today not Vols, impermissible contact and the use of an intern to make contact with a high school staff (likely the now-famous Hostessgate), and a failure to monitor and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance charges. Southern Cal also received an NCAA notice.

Derek Dooley and his current staff were not accused of anything other than being crazy enough to step into the ashes of Fulmer and Kiffin.

*****

Joel Hollingsworth, the Vol blogosphere’s resident attorney, and site-master of Rocky Top Talk, presents his analysis of the redactions. His take is that names of junior recruits were redacted because they are not current NCAA players – they cannot be identified. Names not blacked out are current NCAA players. Not a problem. But Joel spotlights other redactions that are potentially troubling – redactions of specific rules and allegations. That means we don’t know the whole story on Pearl – Joel’s latter classification of redactions were all regarding the basketball program.

To answer Joel’s leading question, I find this quite troubling on multiple accounts. First, and obviously, we now know that we don’t know all the facts in this case. Second, we don’t know why the university has chosen to redact information other than names of individuals. I certainly want to know what and why. It must be pretty embarrassing or incriminating stuff, or both.

*****

Former Vol basketball coach Don DeVoe weighed in on how the image of Tennessee has been marred. Coach DeVoe indicated that he sees no reason, with all the amenities at his disposal (facilities and fan support), for Pearl to go beyond the rules. His answers to media questions further opened his inner sanctum on how he really feels about this situation, and it ain’t pretty, even though DeVoe answers the questions with a lot of class.

His last answer goes to the heart of the matter: breaking rules is one thing… but then

“if you don’t answer the questions honestly, and you re not straightforward and being truthful, then you are opening yourself up for a lot of problems. That’s where Tennessee is today.”

Behind a rock and near a very hard place.

*****

The football program, by most all accounts, is going to be fine. This episode will be seen as the finale of the act of washing the sins of the past coaching staff away. Good riddance. I’ll be glad to pay a minor penalty for all the shit Kiffin has put us through. Maybe a lost scholarship or two will come with a breath of fresh air.

The basketball program, on the other hand, may get nuked. And if they do, they fully deserve it.

Because of lying.

So much has been written on Tennessee blogs and message boards over the past several weeks about Pearl’s actions. The majority of what I’ve seen is paranoia (The NCAA is out to get Tennessee) and stubborn support of a coach that has brought us near the mountaintop (Who cares if he had a couple of recruits over for a BBQ? What’s the big deal about a little lie?). That’s to be expected of the vast majority of any fan base, especially those as loyal as the Vol Nation. You’re excused.

Bruce Pearl is not. He cheated and then he lied. He later admitted to the lie, but it would have gone down a lot smoother if he’d admitted to the cheating rather than admitted to the lying about the cheating.

Pearl has never struck me as a particularly thoughtful man. Tremendous energy, charisma, and intelligence, yes. Brilliant court tactician and game manager, absolutely. But constant introspection, taking a couple of steps back to consider his actions? It’s a gut feeling I’ve always held about him, stoked a bit by his baggage brought down from Iowa regarding his actions in relation to the University of Illinois basketball program.

Simply put, he cheated and his pants caught on fire.

And, when he tried to put them out with his lying, it was as if he poured gasoline on them instead of water.

*****

When will people ever learn that it’s the cover up that usually gets you in far more trouble than the act itself? If you don’t believe me, ask the countless numbers of leaders, politicians, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children…

And, ask Bruce Pearl why his pants are still on fire.

They will be burning brightly until this sorry mess is resolved. Then, we’ll likely have to deal with the smoke of the aftermath for years to come.

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