Bruce Pearl: Unfit Punishment, Is Pearl Getting a Pass Because of Race?

Dexter RogersCorrespondent IDecember 6, 2010

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 24:  Head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, Bruce Pearl looks on from the sideline against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during their preseason NIT semifinal at Madison Square Garden on November 24, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Tennessee Volunteers basketball coach Bruce Pearl was all smiles as his team recently won the NIT Invitational in New York, but, once the SEC Conference schedules start, Pearl likely won’t be smiling.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive recently suspended Pearl for the first eight games of the conference schedule because he violated NCAA rules and lied to investigators.

Slive issued the following regarding Pearl’s punishment, “The institution did what it felt appropriate. The NCAA will do what it feels is appropriate. I was acting on violations of conference rules and procedures, and therefore I concluded that the suspension should reflect half of the conference season.”

Pearl had no qualms with the decision. He recently said, “When you don’t play by the rules, these are the things that can happen. So while these penalties that we’ve self-imposed and now the commissioner’s imposing are unprecedentedly strong, it sets a very high standard and a high standard that I agreed to.”

In September Pearl acknowledged he lied to the NCAA. Pearl lied about making excessive phone calls to recruits to get them and their families to stay in Knoxville longer than permissible by NCAA rules. Pearl also told the parents of the prospective recruits to keep quiet about the gathering.

Pearl also had an improper visit with a high school star named Aaron Craft. Craft is now a freshman at Ohio State.

In Pearl’s most recent interview with the NCAA in June he continued to lie. Three weeks went by before Pearl’s conscious got the best of him. He first notified the athletic department that he lied to investigators who, in turn, contacted the NCAA.

Pearl went public in early September about his actions. He said, “I’ve made some serious mistakes, and for that I’m truly sorry.”

He continued, “I provided incorrect and misleading information to the NCAA. I’ve learned some invaluable lessons. After I provided the false and misleading information, subsequently I went back and corrected the record.”

As a result Pearl worked for a short period of time without a contract. He was under a four-year, $12.5 million deal, but athletic director Mike Hamilton terminated it: He was given a five-year deal that was reduced $1.5 million as part of Pearl’s punishment for lying.

Hamilton issued the following regarding Pearl’s contract situation: “It doesn’t change our stance that we want Bruce Pearl to be our basketball coach for months and years to come,” Hamilton said. “The bottom line is the nature of what came to light in the (NCAA) investigation warranted termination of his previous contract as determined by legal counsel.”

Hamilton continued, “That, coupled with the fact we are making changes to the compensation, led to the necessity of a new contract, which he has in his hands already.”

The NCAA is still investigating the Volunteer program. More sanctions against the program could be on the way.

This brings us to former Indiana University coach Kelvin Sampson. Sampson is now an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks. In 2008 Sampson was forced out as head coach at IU in 2008 for violating NCAA rules.

Sampson coached the University of Oklahoma before landing the IU position. While at Oklahoma, Sampson was alleged to have made nearly 600 impermissible calls between 2000 and 2004. As a result Sampson was operating on recruitment restrictions imposed by the NCAA.

The IU administration knew of Sampson’s past but they felt he deserved a second chance. Sampson was hired to coach IU in March of 2006.

In October of 2007 rumors began to swirl Sampson was up to his old tricks of making improper phone calls to recruits. The university conducted an investigation where it was revealed Sampson and his staff made some impermissible phone calls. It was also determined Sampson himself was on at least 10 three-way calls to recruits.

IU officials deemed the infractions minor. They punished Sampson by taking a projected $500,000 raise from him and extended his NCAA recruitment restriction by an additional year.

Soon after IU punished Sampson the NCAA drafted a letter to the athletic department stating Sampson had committed five major infractions, the most severe of which was lying to university and NCAA officials.

It was believed Sampson did not provide a “generally recognized high standard of honesty” as is mandated by the NCAA. Once IU officials received the allegations it was just a matter of time before Samson would be ousted.

In late February 2008 Sampson was essentially fired, but it was passed off as a resignation. He was given $750,000 and told to walk. Of that total $550,000 came from an anonymous donor. Furthermore, it was stipulated Sampson agree not to file a wrongful termination suit against the university if he took the money.

Sampson agreed to the terms and bolted. He stated, “While I’m saddened that I won’t have the opportunity to continue to coach these student-athletes, I feel that it is in the best interest of the program to step aside at this time.”

Pearl committed more wrong-doing than Sampson yet he still has his job. He admitted he lied to NCAA investigators about hosting a party and making excessive phone calls. For his actions he gets rewarded with a restructured contract and an eight-game vacation while Sampson was forced out?

Ostensibly, Tennessee and Indiana are different programs with very different history and tradition. Sampson’s embarrassing allegations were incredibly disjointed from IU’s history of innocence and winning “the Indiana way.” Tennessee, on other hand, had little history of success before Pearl.

The same NCAA that investigated Sampson also investigated Pearl. Their findings alleged both Sampson and Pearl provided false and misleading information to investigators and made improper phone calls.

It was determined Sampson failed to meet the “generally recognized high standard of honesty” as required by the NCAA. I have no issue with the latter but it is more than obvious Pearl did not meet them either.

Why the apparent double-standard?

Sampson made improper phone calls to recruits, but he didn’t host parties for recruits and take pictures with them. Unlike Pearl, he did not tell the prospective recruits parents to keep quiet. Nor did Sampson confirm or deny the most recent allegations against him.

What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

Look at what happened to Nolan Richardson.

Remember him?

Richardson was the former Arkansas basketball coach who won a National Championship in 1994. He was neither being investigated by the NCAA nor hosting parties for recruits. He was merely speaking his mind.

In 2002 Richardson claimed he was being treated unfairly at Arkansas because of race. He hasn’t roamed the sidelines of a college program since he was fired. After he won the title, Richardson stated, “If I was white, and I did what I’ve done here, they’d build statues of me.”

Later on he would say, “I know for a fact that I do not play on the same level as the other coaches around this school play on.”

Based on how Richardson was treated, is it logical to conclude his race assertion had merit?

In light of the Pearl situation some in the media are praising Slive for punishing Pearl so harshly.

Yeah right.

Slive knew of Pearl’s admission in the beginning of September, yet it took him over two months to administer discipline because he had to investigate the situation. What was there to investigate? Pearl already had come clean about his lying; therefore, it should not have taken two months.

Meanwhile, IU parted ways with Sampson immediately. Once the NCAA notified the athletic department they were given 90 days to respond, but, as history demonstrates, they only needed a week. Rick Greenspan was the athletic director at IU at the time. Greenspan resigned in June of 2008 amid pending NCAA violations.

Before Greenspan left he issued the following on Sampson: “I think shortly after our president said those allegations were troubling and deeply concerning and that we’d work through this is when we came to the conclusion.”

Once the NCAA concluded its investigation, IU was slapped with three-years probation. Sampson was hit with a five-year show-cause order. The order essentially means Sampson cannot coach at the Division I level until 2013. The ruling, in essence, further labels Sampson, making it difficult for him seek a head coaching job at the Division I level even after he is eligible to coach.

Meanwhile, Pearl has a new contract, a vote of confidence from Tennessee, and a weak suspension from the SEC. Based on the actions of the university and the SEC, the NCAA will likely not punish Pearl any further.

Does race factor in this situation?

The short answer is, yes.

Pearl is investigated and admits he lies. He hosts a party, tells parents to keep quiet and has recruits present when they shouldn’t. Then he gets a restructured contract and the benefit of the doubt.

Sampson was ousted for allegations before a decision was reached by the NCAA. Then he was hit with a five-year show-cause order by the NCAA. Without question Pearl committed more offenses than Sampson yet he was given some money and told to leave.

Then Richardson has been black-balled for merely speaking his mind about how he was treated at Arkansas.

If race does not play a factor in this situation, please explain to me how it doesn’t.

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