Oct 18

Wipe the Crumbs Off Your Face or Admit You Ate the Cookie

Today's guest post is by Emily Simmons, a graduate student in communications at the College of Charleston.

He’s famously known as the SEC basketball coach who painted his chest orange in support of the Lady Vols and the first head coach to lead the Volunteers to a #1 national ranking.  Bruce Pearl Ncaa06_mp_t607 led his team into the Elite 8 during the 2010 Men’s NCAA Tournament, the only time in the university’s history.  Now he is the man barely holding on to his job and what’s left of his pride. 

On Sept. 10, Pearl spoke the words that an 'Orange Nation' hoped were not true.  He not only violated recruitment violations, but he lied to NCAA officials during interviews in June.  Although Pearl doesn’t directly admit lying to authorities, he describes his violations as “misleading information.” 

According to the NCAA, Pearl exceeded regulations set for the amount of phone calls coaching staff was allowed to make to recruits.  He is also accused of allowing recruits and their families to extend visits over the 48 hours allotted to a recruit, with each visit being paid for by University of Tennessee’s Athletic Department.  Following his June meeting with NCAA investigators, Pearl reportedly met with UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton to fess up.  Why then was it not until September that he came clean to the public?

The old saying that a picture speaks a thousand words may be the reason why he kept his mouth shut for a few months.  The NCAA obtained a photo of three prospective recruits in Pearl’s home, catching him with his hand in the cookie jar.  NCAA regulations state that high school juniors are not allowed contact with coaching staff off campus.  Following the photo leak, the coach held a press conference during which he shed a few dry tears and choked over his words while apologizing to his family, the NCAA, his staff, Tennessee fans and of course, his players and recruits.  He admitted to violating NCAA regulations and misleading authorities during their investigation.  But, did he really admit that he was the one who stole the cookie?

He confesses that while he blatantly disregarded national rules, he was only sorry for lying about them afterwards.  Pearl vows to cooperate fully during the continuation of the investigation, but he and his staff have failed to answer any further questions from the media.  While he claims he “learned it’s not ok to tell the truth most of the time, it’s ok to tell the truth all the time,” his lack of transparency during this investigation leaves fans and professionals following the case wondering whether one apology is enough.  Does Pearl need more open communication to stop his fall from grace?

With preparations for the 2011 recruiting season well underway, the UT coach and his staff will have little time to convince these recruits that the Orange Nation is the place for them due to UT’s self-imposed sanctions as corrective action following their violations.  Tennessee has reduced the number of days allotted to recruit from 130 to 104 days.  Official recruit visits will be limited to eight days rather than 12, and it can be certain that Pearl will only allow recruits to stay for their given 48 hours.  The head coach was suspended from recruiting calls for nine days, and his Associate Head Coach Tony Jones will not be charging long-distance bills for the next three months.  In addition, he and his staff have received pay cuts and retention checks have been delayed for three years.

While the self-imposed sanctions are clearly an effort to lighten NCAA-imposed sanctions, it’s also a tactic that many are replicating in their own institution.  For example, on Oct. 8, University of Connecticut Head Coach Jim Calhoun announced violations of NCAA recruiting laws.  Their response?  Self-sanctions, of course.  UConn has placed the men’s basketball team on a two-year probation and taken away one scholarship for each of the probated seasons.  Sept. 27, AnnMarie Gilbert, Eastern Michigan women’s basketball coach, announced her one-month suspension following NCAA practice hours violations relating to the 2009-2010 Women’s Invitational Tournament.  While neither of these coaches has officially been punished by the NCAA, they have followed in Pearl’s footsteps in hopes that a few self-sanctions and slaps on the wrist will save their reputation and their programs.

The upcoming months will be the only way to evaluate these attempts to save not only university reputations, but the upcoming recruiting season as well.  Pearl self-proclaims that he is to “be an example for the NCAA,” but depending on the NCAA’s response, his role as an example could cost him his career and the future success of the UT Athletic Department.  Claiming three head football coaches in three seasons and one nationally scrutinized head basketball coach, Tennessee can only hope that these self-sanctions allow the university to become the phoenix and rise from the ashes.