Pay Now or Pay Later

By Johnny Ginter on February 24, 2011 at 1:00p
I'm having a ballDon't stop me now/I'm having such a good time

Several weeks ago Luke and I interviewed Spencer Hall (of EDSBS fame) for the Eleven Dubcast, and asked him some general questions about oversigning and shady football recruiting. Hall gave us some interesting and thoughtful answers, but also made sure to point out something else:

"Basketball recruiting is so venal, foul, and unruly and unregulated as to make the worst practices of Gene Chizik and Trooper Taylor look like missionary work in comparison."

Nearly two months later, and given some of the recent information that has come out from the NCAA concerning Bruce Pearl in Tennessee, it seems like Mr. Hall is being proven 100% correct.

It isn't just that Bruce Pearl has broken rules. Secondary violations are at this point as commonplace in a large collegiate athletic program as sports agents in LA. Ohio State football, for example, has committed literally hundreds of these violations since the year 2000, including one in the recruitment of Seantrel Henderson. No, what has now landed Pearl in more trouble than Lane Kiffin could as of yet dream of is the simple fact that he lied directly to the NCAA, specifically about a recruiting visit by a talented point guard named Aaron Craft to his home for a barbeque.

For those who don't know the story, Aaron Craft attended a barbeque hosted by Bruce Pearl at his house while still a recruit, a clear violation of NCAA rules that Pearl knew about; and in fact Pearl told non-roster attendees at the party that their presence was a violation. Later John Craft, Aaron's father, would get a phone call from Pearl again explaining to him that his son had broken the rules by attending the party, that it was John Craft's decision to attend, and thereby both implicitly blaming the elder Craft and attempting to convince him to keep silent about it to the NCAA. When asked about a picture of Aaron Craft taken at his party by NCAA investigators, Pearl would say that he neither recognized the house (his house), or the woman in the photo (a wife of a longtime assistant).

If Bruce Pearl isn't fired at the end of the season something is seriously wrong at the University of Tennessee.

This isn't the first time that Pearl has been at the center of a recruiting controversy. During the 1988-89 season Bruce Pearl was an assistant coach at Iowa when both Iowa and Illinois were in a fierce battle to sign recruit Deon Thomas. Eventually the Illini won out, and shortly afterwards Pearl produced to the NCAA a phone recording apparently between himself and Thomas, where Thomas admitted that an assistant coach for Illinois had offered him a car and money to play for them. The NCAA eventually found this evidence to be "not credible," but a subsequent investigation into the Illini basketball program showed that there were indeed problems and they were eventually hit with the dreaded "lack of institutional control" label.

Interestingly, from there Bruce Pearl's career seems to be somewhat similar to that of our own Thad Matta. Like Matta, Pearl enjoyed considerable success at smaller schools before moving up to a national program. In Pearl's case, he spent 9 seasons at D-II Southern Indiana, winning a national championship in his third season, before moving on to D-I Milwaukee, where he made it to the Sweet Sixteen in his final year, and then to Tennessee, where last year he coached them into the Elite Eight.

Tennessee didn't have the winning pedigree of even Ohio State when Pearl took over. Maybe the Volunteers weren't desperate for a winner, but they also certainly weren't about to look a gift horse in the mouth, at least not initially. Ohio State fans might remember a similar situation as Matta had once promised to stay at Xavier for much longer than he actually did once Ohio State came calling. For fans of both schools, past indiscretions and faux pas were quickly forgotten as the wins started to come in.

But the similarities between Matta and Pearl end there. Matta is an Indiana native with deep roots there and in Ohio, who played at and later coached for Butler, before going on to coach at Xavier; both small, private schools with little national reach. Though an excellent recruiter, Matta is not the showman that Pearl is, and to my knowledge has never been accused of any major recruiting violations. That's great for Thad Matta and the basketball program, but frankly the issue here is much larger than one team.

The real problem is that there now exists an atmosphere where coaches and others are now trying to find as many ways as possible to game the system; not to work within the confines of NCAA rules, but to figure out how to break the rules without actually appearing to break them. And if they are caught, obfuscate the issue as much as possible while fans and alumni equivocate and try to explain. In other words, there are now simply too many people who think that their pedigree, or charisma, or their track record will be enough to hoodwink the NCAA long enough for whatever unsavory action they just undertook to be swept under the rug.

And they'll be right, so as long as the NCAA continues to be an inconsistent, slow, and opaque organization that only goes after these people after they've already accumulated a rap sheet or lied to their faces. College sports are not a court of law, and the people breaking the rules are not some two bit criminals. They are extremely well compensated adults who know exactly what they are doing, and the NCAA needs to become much more transparent and proactive in how they go after them, for the sake of college sports and the fans of teams whose coaches do things the right way.


Last September 10th, Bruce Pearl held a press conference, where he admitted to several acts of wrongdoing and NCAA violations.

“I’ve put my heart and soul into this program," he said tearfully, "...and I will not let you down again.”

Four days later he was at Oak Hill Academy in Georgia, committing yet another violation by talking to a potential recruit before practice.


Comments Show All Comments

btalbert25's picture

It's a problem that's just going to continue to get worse.  When you have programs like UK basketball who will fire a coach after 2 seasons(not saying Gillespie didn't deserve it) or Michigan who will pay millions to get rid of their football coach, these guys will constantly be trying to find ways to get around the rules.  The pressure is just too much.  The schools, fans, alumni, and boosters demand these guys win and basically do it every year. When you pay a guy millions to coach a sport, I can't say that's unreasonable.  Salaries get higher, the popularity of college sports continues to grow, and expectations become more demanding.  I don't see a way that it gets reversed, even if the NCAA gets tougher. 

Maestro's picture

The NCAA simply doesn't have the manpower to police all the shenanigans.  With big money comes big problems.  Call me a blind homer if you want, but somehow Coach Tressel does a better job than most at sticking to his values and representing the University in a positive way.

vacuuming sucks

btalbert25's picture

I would agree with that.  I'm sure there are times where he has gotten his hands dirty now and then, but at the sametime maybe think he may have a hand in making sure everything is reported correctly and detailed. 

Johnny Ginter's picture

i tried to figure out a way to get this into the article, but from everything i've ever read and heard, JT runs a very tight ship with regards to recruiting (aside from the secondary violations)

RBuck's picture

Yeah, OSU's violations are mainly with the individual players. One of the big differences between Ohio State and the dirty schools is that the Buckeyes self-report. Our only real blemish in the past ten years or so was the O'Brien thing.

Long live the southend.

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

So hoping the HBO special hits the tube. Would love to see people actually admitting cheating and see the SEC burn. Do you think they have this problem with their swimming and track & field teams?

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

Maestro's picture

The spin machine will instantly discredit anyone who comes out with allegations, but it sure would be interesting to hear some scoop.

vacuuming sucks

btalbert25's picture

Something tells me ESPN would have no problem crushing one of the 12 teams.  It's good for ratings to have a scandal, even if it's in the conference  you basically own.  If the NCAA would've found that Cam was inelligible, ESPN would've beaten that to death. 

Bucksfan's picture

What I want to know is how you're going to stop cheating from happening.  You dangle millions of dollars in front of someone with the only catch being to win, and win A LOT, and then we slap a bunch of "you can't do that's" on the tag.

Had he paid for the recruit's "escorts" while they visited...(psssst, which is something that happens at all programs, btw..and by all programs, I mean ALL programs...take your glasses off if you're in denial...and by escorts, I mean co-eds that are paid by boosters to show recruits a good time)...then maybe you'd have a case.  A barbecue?  C'mon.  Is that where we're at?

SonOfBuckeye's picture

Ohio State football, for example, has committed literally hundreds of these violations since the year 2000

Over 20 per year?  I recall reading something like that by the blogger who said Tressel was leaving after the Sugar Bowl, but he didn't link to a source, and I couldn't verify the numbers at