Mike Strange: Price basketball pays goes beyond penalties

Mike Strange

The University of Tennessee can now close a chapter and move forward, it said Wednesday, its NCAA ordeal finally at an end.

That's only partially true.

The legal wrangling is over, agreed. The Committee on Infractions has rendered its penalties on the investigation into football and basketball allegations that dates back more than two years.

Football came out fine. No major Lane Kiffin violations after all. The only penalty left to be enforced is that on Nov. 1 only five coaches can make recruiting calls instead of 10.

I don't think that will eliminate the Vols from the 2012 SEC championship game.

Basketball, however, is another story. Unless new coach Cuonzo Martin is a miracle-worker, the impact will be felt a while to come.

On the face of it, the only basketball penalty Martin inherits is being restricted from providing "occasional off-campus meals" to recruits during the 2011-12 school year.

No cookouts, no problem. The damage, however, from firing Bruce Pearl is more complex than an occasional meal.

More on that in a moment. First, let's survey the casualty list from this misadventure.

Pearl and his three assistants lost jobs at a major program. Their families are also punished. Their professional future is uncertain.

Mike Hamilton is out as athletic director. More than two months later, no successor is in sight.

The athletic department budget has taken a double hit. The legal bills to mount a defense to NCAA charges are staggering. Parker Executive Search has been engaged twice, to find a basketball coach and an AD.

Both of Pearl's 2011 recruits, Kevin Ware and Chris Jones, bailed. I won't count freshman Tobias Harris. He was probably going to jump to the NBA even if Pearl stayed.

I will count the relationships Pearl and his staff had built with recruits for 2012 and beyond. Who knows if a couple of blue-chippers would have ended up as Vols anyway, but the coaching change sabotaged any chance UT had.

This is no criticism of Martin. It's a statement about the difficulty of recruiting.

The Vols were going to be in rebuilding mode in 2011-12, even if none of this happened. The rebuild looks steeper now.

UT is right about it being time to close a chapter and move on now. The rebuild is Martin's chance to show what he can do.

In closing the Pearl Era, the NCAA statement added yet one more curious element to the former coach's already-curious Tennessee epitaph.

The big-deal "bump" at Oak Hill Academy last September wasn't even mentioned.

The NCAA enforcement staff felt compelled to label it a major violation in December. UT's administration used it as a face-saving excuse for its backtracking decision to fire Pearl in March.

"We didn't even find it,'' said Britton Banowsky, speaking for the Committee on Infractions during a teleconference. "Most of the allegations were admitted to and agreed to. This was disputed (by UT) in fact.

"Had it been found, it would have likely been a secondary violation.''

An interesting footnote, but all that's left now of the Pearl Era is the fallout. And that has the potential to be major rather than secondary.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange

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Comments » 12

MikeTheTiger writes:

The good news for basketball is that it is easier to rebuild a program than any other sport. It only takes a couple of stars to get you back in contention. The question is, can he get any to come and play his style? Time will tell.

eduardo writes:

Anyone ready to wander around in the wilderness for 40 more yrs?? Only here can something this ridiculous happen!

SECProudUT writes:

Hey Mike Strange,
No mention of the fact that CBP never sent back a signed contract. That's why he lost his UT backing, not because of that so called bump.

It is what it is and now is the time to move on.

kjneel#238751 writes:

No prima dona on this team now so I bet they scrap like hell to get wins. We will love this new style and it will remind us of the team that beat Kansas after the suspensions of the other "elites". United teams win and we will have a tight team. I look forward to seeing this new brand of UT hoops. I was sick of the "me" brand the past few years. Go Big O...Look out Duke.

born2ride writes:

Pearl is gone. So is UT Basketball.

Kelly8 writes:

in response to SECProudUT:

Hey Mike Strange,
No mention of the fact that CBP never sent back a signed contract. That's why he lost his UT backing, not because of that so called bump.

It is what it is and now is the time to move on.

You really think that Pearl committing another violation, or even the fact that it seemed like a violation, had nothing to do with his termination? Really?

You really think it's because he didn't sign his contract? Because UT kept him for a long time after he refused to sign that contract.

GVX posts are like dealing with kindergartners.

SECProudUT writes:

in response to Kelly8:

You really think that Pearl committing another violation, or even the fact that it seemed like a violation, had nothing to do with his termination? Really?

You really think it's because he didn't sign his contract? Because UT kept him for a long time after he refused to sign that contract.

GVX posts are like dealing with kindergartners.

You actually believe he intended to commit another violation? That is laughable, hell the entire media even stated it was a secondary if in fact it did happen back when it was news.

Pearl was defying authority by holding out. Plain and simple.

The kindergarten comment I'll leave for the puppet gallery.

Packer_Park_Orange (Inactive) writes:

Both Pearl and Martin were mid-major hires. The big difference between the two is that Pearl had a track record and could recruit.

If anyone actually believes that CCM is ever going to compete with Calipari with a bunch of two star scrubs - Think again.

We will be repeating our coaching search in 2013

finn writes:

in response to Packer_Park_Orange:

Both Pearl and Martin were mid-major hires. The big difference between the two is that Pearl had a track record and could recruit.

If anyone actually believes that CCM is ever going to compete with Calipari with a bunch of two star scrubs - Think again.

We will be repeating our coaching search in 2013

Why don't you give the man a chance before running your mouth?

tennrich1 writes:

in response to Packer_Park_Orange:

Both Pearl and Martin were mid-major hires. The big difference between the two is that Pearl had a track record and could recruit.

If anyone actually believes that CCM is ever going to compete with Calipari with a bunch of two star scrubs - Think again.

We will be repeating our coaching search in 2013

Actually the truth is you don't know...I don't know...the rest of the sports world doesn't...and don't try and say when we hired CBP you knew he was going to do what he did especially with that first team.....I agree...it will be harder for CCM....but who knows...certainly not you or I....CCM may be our greatest coach yet....

Volunatic writes:

in response to Kelly8:

You really think that Pearl committing another violation, or even the fact that it seemed like a violation, had nothing to do with his termination? Really?

You really think it's because he didn't sign his contract? Because UT kept him for a long time after he refused to sign that contract.

GVX posts are like dealing with kindergartners.

Now, now. Plenty of kindergartners are more sophisticated than the typical GVX troll.

Volunatic writes:

in response to tennrich1:

Actually the truth is you don't know...I don't know...the rest of the sports world doesn't...and don't try and say when we hired CBP you knew he was going to do what he did especially with that first team.....I agree...it will be harder for CCM....but who knows...certainly not you or I....CCM may be our greatest coach yet....

Excellent post. No harm in the "wait and see" approach. Nothing is gained in being first on the "gloom and doom" bandwagon.
I think there's a good chance Cuonzo Martin will be a very good coach.

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