Bruce Pearl NCAA Sanctions

By Dennis Berry

NCAA Gets It Right in Punishing Pearl, Staff and not Tennessee

More often than not the NCAA gets ripped in public opinion when it comes to some of their rulings and enforcements. If a major school gets a favorable ruling from the NCAA, fans like to bash the NCAA for playing favorites. If a small school gets hit hard for breaking the rules, fans like to say they were too hard on them.

Sometimes if the NCAA hits a big school hard, as it did with USC, people say it was too much. Many are waiting to see what will happen with the cases of Ohio State and more recently Miami. Fans are curious to see if the NCAA will impose even stricter sanctions with those schools. The NCAA just never seems to get it right.

With the recent ruling on Tennessee, the NCAA appears to have gotten it right.

The NCAA's two year investigation into the Tennessee Athletic department ended with the NCAA Committee of Infractions final report issued on Wednesday. The NCAA handed down no further punishment to Tennessee, deciding that Tennessee's self-imposed penalties were enough. The NCAA did put Tennessee on two years probation.

The NCAA decided to go after the Volunteers former head coach Bruce Pearl and his staff. The NCAA gave Bruce Pearl a three year show-cause penalty. His assistant coaches, Tony Jones, Steve Forbes, and Jason Shay, were each given one year show-cause penalties.

What the show-cause will do is ban the coaches from any recruiting activities during that period. Also, it makes any school wishing to hire them file a report to the Committee on Infractions either adopting the restrictions or requesting an appearance before the committee to contest them. If they are hired by a school, although they cannot recruit, they can still evaluate players.

Those penalties will probably keep Pearl from coaching in college basketball anytime soon. Pearl at this time has an offer to coach in the NBA D-League. It appears that if he wants to coach without restrictions, it would be the way to go.

This is the fallout from Pearl lying to the NCAA about hosting recruits at his home for a barbeque in 2008. After lying during a 2010 interview with the NCAA, Pearl later admitted that he had lied during the interview. Tennessee stated its support for Pearl after that, but did self-impose sanctions on Pearl and the basketball program. The Southeastern Conference suspended Pearl for eight SEC games.

Bruce Pearl NCAA Sanctions
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl in SEC Media Day at Wynfrey Hotel in Birmingham, AL.

The final straw for Pearl appeared to be when he had illegal contact with a high school at Oak Hill Academy. Pearl was fired after Tennessee was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament.

The sanctions forced on Pearl and his staff could be the start of the new way of punishing the rule breakers of college basketball. Throughout the history of the NCAA, it has always been that the school takes the biggest hit when the NCAA hands down a punishment. That is fine if the school knows about the rules that are being broken and allow it to happen.

Not with Pearl and his staff. Instead of the school getting hit hard, it was the coach. Pearl and his staff are paying the price for lying to the NCAA. What helped Tennessee was the fact that it fully cooperated with the NCAA in its investigation. It was noted in the NCAA report:

"The cooperation the institution demonstrated in this case is in stark contrast to the conduct and failures of the former men's basketball coaching staff."

While there are some fans in Knoxville who may believe that the ruling was unfair to Pearl, they need to look on the bright side.

The basketball program could be the one with sanctions. Too often a new coach and his staff are forced to deal with the loss of scholarships or recruiting limitations for something they did not do. Too many times a new coaching staff has to clean up the old staff's wrong doing.

When the investigation first began, the popular belief was the basketball program would be hammered by the NCAA. That a new coach would not have the chance to succeed right away because of what the old coaching staff had done.

New Volunteers coach Cuonzo Martin does not have to worry about any of that now. While Martin and his staff will have to deal with the self-imposed sanctions made by Tennessee, they are not enough to keep the program from moving forward. There is no post season ban or loss of scholarships.

In the end the NCAA got it right. The old coach staff got hit with penalties. The school did not get receive further punishment from the NCAA. The new coaching staff has the chance to rebuild the program without limitations.

Yes I said it: the NCAA got it right.

After the Tennessee debacle, what's the next step for Bruce Pearl.

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