ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, one of the game's top commentators, today called Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive's suspension of Tennessee Head Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl "stupid." Bilas made the comments as the color analyst at court-side during Tennessee's beat-down of previously unbeaten Pittsburgh today.
As everyone knows by now, Pearl and his staff committed some NCAA violations by contacting recruits excessively by phone. On top of that, he lied about it to investigators.
After lying, Pearl owned up to his misrepresentations. As a result, his employer, the University of Tennessee, docked him and his staff a quarter of their pay for the next several years, an unprecedented step by any school, and also restricted his recruiting, as well as that of his staff. Right now, Pearl is still working without a contract.
The presidents of the SEC institutions of higher education gave Slive sweeping powers recently. Those powers are greater than any conference commissioner has ever had to fine and suspend coaches, among other things.
Slive first utilized those powers by fining former Florida football coach Urban Meyer for comments about officiating that he deemed impertinent. Ironically, that fine was for violating the league's "Lane Kiffin Rule," which was instituted when Slive felt that he was powerless to discipline coaches for making bad comments about each other.
Bilas made the valid point that the NCAA is the body that governs and enforces rules regarding recruiting. As Slive has famously noted in the Cam Newton case regarding Auburn, the SEC is not an investigatory body.
Why, then, did Slive take the unprecedented step of suspending a coach for half of the school's league games? The commissioner said he even considered suspending Pearl for all of the SEC season, but ostensibly stepped back from that due to Pearl's admissions.
When Bilas' on-air partner on ESPN, play-by-play man Sean McDonough, asked Bilas why he thought Slive did what he did, Bilas didn't hesitate, in saying, "I'm not making any assumptions. I know why he did it. He wasn't satisfied with Tennessee's self-imposed penalties. Why else would he do it?"
If Bilas is right, Slive has wandered into dangerous territory. Have the school presidents given him too much power? Should a conference commissioner be able to discipline a coach when he disagrees with how the institution itself has already disciplined him?
The presidents of the SEC schools need to seriously reconsider what they have wrought in giving their commissioner such sweeping powers. Slive or some other commissioner in the future might easily abuse their discretion.
Big-time athletics is a big business nowadays. Tennessee has made the decision that, while it doesn't condone Pearl's actions, they are sticking with him as their coach. Obviously, Slive felt, if Bilas is correct, that UT should have fired or suspended Pearl.
Once Pearl's contract is in place, he may be untouchable by the NCAA in terms of forcing him out of college coaching. Remember that Kelvin Sampson had already been fired by Indiana by the time the the NCAA finally issued its order requiring him to get NCAA approval before he could coach again for a period of time in college basketball.
As long as Pearl has a contract at UT, the NCAA may not be able to interfere in that contractual relationship. It will make for an interesting court case if they attempt to do so.
Slive's authority only extended to SEC games. Pearl will still coach the UConn game. He will travel with the team even to the away games that he's suspended from coaching. He will coach the team right up until each of the eight SEC games he is forced to miss, both home and away. The only thing he will have to do due to Slive's edict is stay away from the playing venue starting at least two hours before each game.
Ironically, Tennessee hired Mike Slive's former Glazier law firm in Chicago to advise them on what penalties to self-impose on Pearl and his staff. Slive appears to have been miffed that what that firm worked out in consultation with the NCAA wasn't good enough to please him. Maybe he was upset he was left out of that loop. Who knows?
It may be that the NCAA feels like Pearl has already been punished too much. While the hammer might very well fall harder than Tennessee imagines, it could very well be that the penalties already imposed will be accepted as at least enough for what were fairly minor underlying offenses, outside of the lying to investigators.
The media is beginning to see overkill in the Pearl situation. Tennessee expressed its displeasure and disappointment that their own conference commissioner decided to stick his nose into a situation that he arguably should stayed out of entirely until the NCAA process has fully played itself out.
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