Cam Newton and Bruce Pearl: Bracing for the Storm While Praying for a Rainbow

Michael Ellis@@MikeFromTNCorrespondent INovember 24, 2010

Superstar Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers in the NCAA's shadow.
Superstar Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers in the NCAA's shadow.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The silence has been deafening within the last week concerning the Cam Newton scandal.

Auburn has already secured their spot in the SEC Championship Game and is set to take on South Carolina in Atlanta on Saturday, December 4th.

Are storm clouds still gathering or has the worst already passed?  Should we brace for another round of tornadic media activity or is there a rainbow forming over the plains to Atlanta?

Perhaps, the latest SEC developments would seem to have nothing to do at all with Newton and Auburn University.

Last Friday, SEC commissioner Mike Slive handed down an eight-game SEC suspension to Tennessee Volunteers head basketball coach Bruce Pearl. 

Does Pearl's seemingly unrelated suspension light up the Doppler radar down on the plains for Auburn and their star quarterback Cam Newton?

Maybe. Maybe not.  I'll try to explain.

Background Information Concerning Mike Slive and Bruce Pearl

Back in 1989 while an assistant coach at the University of Iowa, Pearl was engaged in an intense recruiting battle with Illinois for the services of a much sought-after basketball recruit named Deon Thomas. 

To make a long story short, a zealous Pearl recorded a phone conversation with Thomas that seemed to indicate that the recruit was promised cash and a vehicle to commit to Illinois.  Pearl and Iowa then turned the evidence over to the NCAA, which led to an investigation of Illinois and their recruiting practices.

While the investigation was under way, Illinois hired a popular NCAA attorney named Mike Slive to defend them of the accusations levied by Pearl and Iowa.

Slive, somewhat of a hired gun, had a track record of going into a tough situation, evaluating all the evidence and then advising of ways to soften the blow that could be coming the university's way via the NCAA.  Slive was apparently so sure of Illinois' guilt he recommended severe self-imposed penalties by the university.

Illinois did not like or agree with Slive's assessment and he was fired by the university.

After a lengthy NCAA investigation, Illinois was eventually charged for, "lack of institutional control" that resulted in severe penalties and sanctions.

Does any of this sound familiar in 2010?

Slive continued his rise through the NCAA and on July 1, 2002 became the commissioner of the SEC.

After years of being black-listed in the coaching profession for his role in turning in Illinois, Pearl finally got his big break in 2005 and became the head basketball coach at Tennessee.

The Current Bruce Pearl Situation

Pearl recently admitted, after previously lying to NCAA investigators, that he and the Tennessee basketball staff had engaged in illegal contact of recruits and had also hosted several recruits at Pearl's personal home.  Both of which are NCAA recruiting violations. 

Upon his admission, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton laid out multiple self-imposed penalties to Pearl and his staff.  In addition to significant pay cuts to both Pearl and his assistants, the head coach will not be allowed to recruit off campus for a period of one year.

Last Friday, SEC commissioner Mike Slive, citing "established facts," suspended Pearl for the first eight games of the SEC schedule, which begins on January 8, 2011. 

The pressure of the investigation and Pearl's suspension may end up being too much for the university to withstand and could eventually cost him his job.  Many fans are behind Pearl 100 percent but others have grown weary of the scandals that have occurred in UT athletics in the past few years.

The NCAA investigation is on-going and additional penalties are probably still headed Tennessee's way.

Many Vol fans and supporters probably felt like the SEC was just piling on the charismatic coach, but remember Slive's modus operandi back in 1989: Impose penalties from within, in an attempt to try and lessen the blow from the NCAA.

Commissioner Slive is more likely trying to preserve the integrity of the league and doing Tennessee a favor in the process.

"It is my understanding that this is the first time a suspension of this magnitude has been imposed by the conference.  Does it set a precedent?  Yes, it does.  Is it significant?  Yes.  Does it send a message?  Yes."—SEC commissioner Mike Slive


Cam Newton and Auburn

If you are a sports fan and haven't been living on Mars for the past month, you surely know most of the details that have been alleged concerning Cam Newton.

There is now a cast of characters so large that a cut would have to be made for a Broadway production.

Bond, Rogers, Bell, Chizik, Cecil, Mullen, Meyer and the list goes on and on.

Internet rumors and innuendo have fanned the flames and even resulted in a cult classic mini-novel called As the Plains Burn.

The allegations center on Newton's father, Cecil Newton, who supposedly sought money from Mississippi State to secure his son's commitment. 

A money trail has yet to be found and Auburn officials as well as the Newtons have denied any wrongdoing.

If the allegations are proven true, even without a monetary exchange, Newton could lose his remaining eligibility, a shot at the SEC and BCS titles as well as any hope of winning the Heisman Trophy.

Like Pearl, Newton has overwhelming support from his fanbase, but very little from his detractors.

How Does the Newton Situation Tie in with Pearl and Slive?

At the very least, the timing of Pearl's suspension by Slive temporarily took some of the media hype off of Auburn and Cam Newton.  The crawls at the bottom of the various ESPN networks went from all Cam all the time to a cameo appearance or two by the Vols head coach.

If Commissioner Slive is presented with "established facts" in the Newton case he will be compelled to act for the good of the conference and now has a precedent for previously unprecedented actions.

Commissioner Slive said this concerning Pearl: "The nature of the violations that have been established were such that a conference penalty was appropriate."  Then added, "I thought it was important for our conference to do something rather than just to wait for the NCAA and do something on top of that."

It is clear that Commissioner Slive is not one to rush to judgement and will have "established facts" before him if and when a decision needs to be made in the Newton ordeal.

It is also clear that Slive has no affinity for those who skirt the rules and seems determined to clean up and make examples when necessary.

He has clearly stated that with "established facts" he will "do something rather than just wait for the NCAA."

All three men have much to lose in each of these cases.  For Pearl, his current position with Tennessee, his livelihood and his future college coaching career are at stake.  For Newton, his eligibility and dreams of winning the Heisman Trophy and both the SEC and BCS championships are at risk.  For Slive, his credibility, stature and legacy are on the line.

Slive, in fact, may actually have the most to lose as he must provide answers to all 12 SEC institutions and not just in a single sport.  His decisions or lack thereof will have a major impact on the bowl implications for several SEC teams and possibly even national title hopes.

The clock is ticking as the SEC Championship Game is now just 11 days away. 

Bruce Pearl now waits for the heavy foot of the NCAA to come down.

Cam Newton now waits and hopes that there are no damaging "established facts" to become evident to the SEC office.

Mike Slive patiently waits for all of the facts to be gathered by investigators.

And everyone else...well, we're all on standby; some constantly checking the sky for alarming storm clouds while others continue to pray for a peaceful rainbow.

Like the weather, sports and life can change, and so often do, in a matter of seconds.

Brace yourselves SEC fans, those clouds are getting darker, or that a rainbow trying to peek through?


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