Vanderbilt graduate and ESPN analyst Skip Bayless showed no mercy, but Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl held his own in a nationally televised debate Wednesday.
"I was schooled to despise everything orange in Tennessee, so I hate you, but welcome,'' Bayless said, opening the head-to-head discussion on "First Take," broadcast on ESPN2.
Pearl's appearance on the morning program was the first of many stops for him at the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn. He also did ESPN News, an ESPNU recruiting show and radio shows with Scott Van Pelt and Doug Gottlieb.
The 7 1/2-minute debate with Bayless, however, was among the more entertaining moments of the day.
Bayless is a decorated veteran journalist who specializes in arguing sports topics, often insulting his opponent with verbal barbs that sometimes get personal.
Pearl was too intent on using the platform to promote the UT men's basketball program to be intimidated.
"When you're dealing with the national media, it does provide you with some credibility,'' Pearl said. "There are a lot of intangible benefits.
"I understand the value of getting up at 5 a.m. to take a commercial flight up there and keep Tennessee out there.''
Pearl took a stand for college basketball in his debate with Bayless, arguing the merits of the NCAA tournament versus the NBA playoffs.
"Number one is the sense of urgency,'' Pearl said, ". . . the student-athlete might be playing the last college game of his career . . . an (NBA) playoff series might take two weeks.''
Bayless interjected a verbal jab: "You're good at spewing boloney, spew some more.''
Pearl, slightly ruffled, continued.
"You have 65 game sevens, that points to the sense of urgency,'' Pearl said. "Who is the Cinderella in the NBA playoffs?''
Bayless argued the level of play is higher in the NBA playoffs and that the NCAA tournament is "wildly" exciting for all the wrong reasons with games in random locations at random times with "strange" referees.
"Let me ask you a question. How many bracketologists are there that fill out their NBA brackets?'' Pearl countered. "How many guys take off the weekend from work just to watch the opening round?''
Bayless cleverly used UT's loss to Michigan State to drive home his key point: "amateurish" officiating in the NCAA tournament.
"J.P. Prince, he got all ball on Raymar (Morgan), you know it and I know it," Bayless said, referring to the controversial foul called with 1.8 seconds left that enabled the Spartans to advance to the Final Four. "They took the game out of the kids' hands, and they let him (Morgan) shoot free throws to beat you."
Pearl said "nine times out of 10, that's a foul. Michigan State got the ball in there too deep," and that ". . . we lost the game because we didn't get back on defense."
Bayless finished his argument: "Was it a foul?"
Pearl's reply: "No, but I woulda called it.''
Pearl said he was impressed with the ESPN facilities and enjoyed meeting many of the broadcasters, producers, directors and executives.
"We were able to talk about future scheduling, the properties (tournaments) they own like Maui, Orlando and the Big East/SEC Challenge," Pearl said. "Maintaining the contacts and relationships is important for future scheduling. It was a great experience."
On The Spot: Pearl was asked prior to his "First Take" debate if he would mind arguing Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt basketball with Bayless.
"I told them I wasn't comfortable doing that," Pearl said. "But then they asked anyway."
Pearl, who has referred to Bayless as "Vandy Skip," didn't hold back once provoked.
"Head to head against them, we have a winning record; they've beaten us at our place one time, we beat them at their place a couple times," Pearl said. "Over the last three or four years we've won seven NCAA tournament games; over the last three years Vanderbilt hasn't won a game.
"We average 20,000 (attendance), they average about 12. We play on a court where the benches are actually on the sidelines, not in the end zone. . . . I think our program is ahead of Vanderbilt's."
Both men had their voices raised as the debate continued with Bayless countering.
"My trump card here is that my coach, Kevin Stallings, would never stoop to painting his chest gold and sitting in the student section," he said. "Second of all, we beat you both times this year. And third of all, Duke gets all the best smart kids; while our academic admission standards are so severe that we have a limit to how many talented kids we can recruit, so we consistently do more with less than you do."
Pearl closed the discussion.
"Kevin Stallings does a phenomenal job," he said, "but I'm telling you right now, if there's a Tennessee kid with a chance to go to Tennessee or Vanderbilt, he's going to Tennessee."