John Adams: ESPN loses its leading man in Pearl

John Adams
Tennessee students cheer for the ESPN Game Day crew during a live broadcast in Thompon-Boling Arena prior to the Vols' matchup against the Vanderbilt Commodores Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011.

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee students cheer for the ESPN Game Day crew during a live broadcast in Thompon-Boling Arena prior to the Vols' matchup against the Vanderbilt Commodores Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011.

Great idea, bad timing is the best way to characterize ESPN's College GameDay production at Thompson-Boling Arena today.

The idea: Combine two charismatic coaches, an impassioned fan base, an intrastate rivalry and the longest-running success story in college basketball. How can you go wrong?

The timing: UT men's coach Bruce Pearl, who is serving the third game of an eight-game SEC suspension, can add nothing more than another household to ESPN's TV ratings. You still will have the fans, the rivalry, and Pat Summitt's 36-year-old basketball dynasty. But you have lost your leading man.

GameDay was made for Pearl, who is as comfortable and competent articulating at courtside as he is screaming from a bench. If this was basketball business as usual, he would probably greet the early-arriving students at the arena and anchor ESPN's stretch run by providing celebrity commentary on the Lady Vols-Vanderbilt nightcap of the day-night doubleheader.

Can you imagine GameDay selecting UT as its 2011 leadoff hitter without Pearl? UT men's basketball pre-Pearl often didn't warrant a nationally televised minute.

Now, Pearl's absence becomes the story of the day. And it's not a story UT fans want to hear. In fact, they might want to skip the rest of this sentence in which I mention the program is under NCAA investigation and Pearl has been penalized substantially for lying to investigators.

As tiresome as that might be to UT fans, it won't be ignored by anyone addressing a national audience. That won't make it any less grating to East Tennessee viewers, some of whom already have been offended by an ESPN telecast.

"They were bad-mouthing Pearl continuously," said Robert Burrell, a UT fan from Jacksboro who gave me his opinion in a phone conversation. "ESPN never gives Tennessee a break on nothing. That's just how I feel.

"When you're trying to watch a ball game and all you hear is bad-mouth over and over . . . so I just mute the television and listen to the radio."

Bob Kesling and Bert Bertelkamp will provide a friendly and familiar alternative on the Vol Network. Since I'm plugging networks here, that's AM 990.

Fans might trash ESPN behind its back, but not to its cameras. They will scream on cue and keep screaming from morning through night while reminding a national audience this isn't just a football town.

The men drew more than 19,000 for their last home game. The women drew more than 14,000. How many other schools can elicit that much support for two programs?

UT can count on its crowd. It can count on the Lady Vols, too. What's going on between Vanderbilt and them constitutes a rivalry only in the broadest sense of the word. UT has won 56 of the 63 games in the series and has never lost to the Commodores at Thompson-Boling. I realize the risk in submitting comparative scores as evidence, but I can't help noting that Vanderbilt lost to Ole Miss by five points a couple of weeks ago, and UT beat Ole Miss by 40 a week later.

The UT men are the variable on this day. They have beaten No. 5 Pittsburgh and No. 7 Villanova. They also have lost six of their last nine games, all against unranked teams. Even before they lost their coach, they often looked lost on game day.

Next week's schedule is comprised of road trips to Georgia and Connecticut, so even the most laid-back Vols should have a sense of urgency. They're 0-2 in the SEC and facing a Vanderbilt team buoyed by a victory over No. 24 Georgia on Wednesday and further bolstered by beating the Vols on their home court last season. That's one of only two UT losses in the last 13 SEC home games with Pearl on its bench.

But, as ESPN will remind you, Pearl isn't on the bench.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns

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Comments » 43

minnehan writes:

Pearl is his own worst enemy

dwa7#337691 writes:

early predict:

UT Men 73 Vandy Commode Door Men 70
UT Lady Vols 76 Vandy Commode Women 66

newportvol writes:

vandy 73
Vols 65

OrangeBlur writes:

Death, Taxes, and ESPN predicting Ohio State as NCs year after year. Hmm.

BigBadVol writes:

in response to minnehan:

Pearl is his own worst enemy

What an idiot comment. Please troll on another site.

rockytopatl writes:

Hate to be pessimistic, but I can't feel good about this one. This game worried me even when I thought we would win our first two conference games.

volfaninohio writes:

Pearl had issues before he came to UT and his absence is old news. ESPN will mention it all day but in the end who cares? They were losing with him and now without him.

I love the VOLS but he should have been sent out of town when this broke. ESPN loves to harp on a story and this will last all weekend.

jbocap writes:

I predict ESPN will milk what they can of the CBP story...then, they will ignore Tennessee and talk about other schools (while broadcasting on campus in Knoxville). Then, when the Lady Vols play...they will go back and be warm & fuzzy to Pat Summitt.

ronnioekykid_1999 writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

BigVolinCarolina writes:

ESPN is very selective on the stories they run and we all know that Tennessee has never really been on the "good list", if there is one.

Pearl committing recruiting violations is a story. Pearl lying to the NCAA about it when confronted made it into a story which would explode in UT's face.

The dust hasn't settled yet, and won't for some time. This is what happens when choices like this are made. I love Tennessee and I love our teams, and I hope everyone learns from this.

thevoice writes:

in response to volfaninohio:

Pearl had issues before he came to UT and his absence is old news. ESPN will mention it all day but in the end who cares? They were losing with him and now without him.

I love the VOLS but he should have been sent out of town when this broke. ESPN loves to harp on a story and this will last all weekend.

Agreed. Love the Vols, my Alma Mater, too. I have a sneaky feeling that those who actually went to UT care far more about the reputation and perception of the university than they do about the manner in which the wins are accumulated. In a perfect world, all wins would be achieved similar to the fashion displayed by one woman's coach (our very own Pat), with class, discipline, and integrity.

As far as ESPN's bashing, guess I'm one of the few who'll admit we deserve it. If you make your bed, you gotta "lie" in it.

Pullingguard writes:

in response to BigBadVol:

What an idiot comment. Please troll on another site.

Why is that an idiot comment... In fact its a true comment.. He brought everything on himself, the program and the negative comments on the basketball team and the University. Prediction/.
If NCAA gives him year probation he is probably History with the Vols...and should be...telling falsehoods to NCAA is a NO-NO.

murrayvol writes:

Yes, Vandy beat UGA in Nashville.

But I doubt they'll shoot 20 more FTs than the Vols in Knoxville.

vol_4_fan writes:

Say what you want about ESPN, but with this visit that will make it 4 years in a row for gameday. that is more than any other school over that time, it is not their fault we have another "story to tell" just like last year. In fairness to CBP, before he came ESPN Gameday only came to Knoxville for football. I am thinking that they will be back for that sooner rather than later. Go Vols!

ronnioekykid_1999 writes:

YOU PEOPLE HAVE NO SHAME IN TN YOU DESERVE TO HAVE A LOSING PROGRAM NO TRADITION HERE

BigOrangeSmoker writes:

Once again this no good for nothing reporter brings all the negative he can to anything UT related,when oh when will he go away????

abnerPeabody writes:

in response to dwa7#337691:

early predict:

UT Men 73 Vandy Commode Door Men 70
UT Lady Vols 76 Vandy Commode Women 66

Thanks. Now that I know the outcome of those games,I will follow through on my wife's plan to Visit Pigeon Forge today knowing the Vols were winners in both games.

elmoe writes:

I think both Vols teams win today but am embarrassed that BP is still the coach.
No wonder they make fun of us. Spineless hillbilly AD who condones cheating and lying. That fine was levied just for show and amounts to nothing more than a tax break as
BP will get a raise as soon as he serves his
year suspension. GO VOLS! and get your SXXT
together!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Yes, Vandy beat UGA in Nashville.

But I doubt they'll shoot 20 more FTs than the Vols in Knoxville.

They might if they pound it inside against the Vols as much as they did against UGA! Vandy has a VERY strong post game and several guys who can drive to the basket as well. I know all about the friendly refs Vandy always seems to get at home, and I have often wondered why the Vols don't seem to get as much of an advantage in TBA, but Vandy's style is likely to give them LOTS of free-throw opportunities anywhere they play. They are great free-throw shooters who INVITE contact; the Vols are mediocre free-throw shooters who seem to SHY AWAY from contact because they don't WANT to go to the line.

Kasey writes:

I agree Pearl does one stupid thing after another to shoot himself in the foot. He may be a decent coach, but he is obviously lacking sound judgment capabilities frequently. It's not like he was unaware that lying to NCAA officials would come back to bite him in the butt, and he chose to do it anyway. That's an example of a huge character flaw.

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

A lot of insanely stupid comments by new trolls. Some of the usual c-r-a-p from the more seasoned trolls. Bottom line is that UT hasn't been more successful than the 5 year run with Pearl as HC. Having gameday in Knoxville, IMHO, is just another in a series of cheap shots by ESPN to keep this story alive and well. Nothing new has come out since the day that Pearl admitted to lying to the NCAA, but never mind that...we're going to keep this going. Just another reason why we need another major competitive sports network to be launched, b/c I'm REALLY sick to death of ESPN.

jkreis#632254 writes:

I'm so tired of these pollyannas calling for BP to be fired. His rules violations were not insignificant but were minor, obviously his poor decision to lie about it before coming clean has made a mountain out of a mole hill - but as someone else metioned, he has owned his mistake as few coaches ever do. If you are blind to the money circulating around on the recruiting trail, and the violations dealing with academic fraud that are going on out there that the NCAA can't, or doesn't want to get a handle on and think BP's punishment fits his crimes then you are out of touch! This has become all about IMAGE for the NCAA; their chance to LOOK tough. Get over it; I'm not embarrassed to have BP as our coach and believe he'll get this team turned around despite these penalties.

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

in response to ronnioekykid_1999:

YOU PEOPLE HAVE NO SHAME IN TN YOU DESERVE TO HAVE A LOSING PROGRAM NO TRADITION HERE

You DO know that typing in ALL CAPS adds absolutely NO more weight to an already childish post, don't you?

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

in response to vol_4_fan:

Say what you want about ESPN, but with this visit that will make it 4 years in a row for gameday. that is more than any other school over that time, it is not their fault we have another "story to tell" just like last year. In fairness to CBP, before he came ESPN Gameday only came to Knoxville for football. I am thinking that they will be back for that sooner rather than later. Go Vols!

I would understand your point if they didn't beat the dead horse of Pearl vs NCAA when they came to town. I really don't think that the exposure in this context will really help the program all that much. I hope I'm wrong.

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

in response to jkreis#632254:

I'm so tired of these pollyannas calling for BP to be fired. His rules violations were not insignificant but were minor, obviously his poor decision to lie about it before coming clean has made a mountain out of a mole hill - but as someone else metioned, he has owned his mistake as few coaches ever do. If you are blind to the money circulating around on the recruiting trail, and the violations dealing with academic fraud that are going on out there that the NCAA can't, or doesn't want to get a handle on and think BP's punishment fits his crimes then you are out of touch! This has become all about IMAGE for the NCAA; their chance to LOOK tough. Get over it; I'm not embarrassed to have BP as our coach and believe he'll get this team turned around despite these penalties.

I agree 100%

razin55 writes:

in response to jkreis#632254:

I'm so tired of these pollyannas calling for BP to be fired. His rules violations were not insignificant but were minor, obviously his poor decision to lie about it before coming clean has made a mountain out of a mole hill - but as someone else metioned, he has owned his mistake as few coaches ever do. If you are blind to the money circulating around on the recruiting trail, and the violations dealing with academic fraud that are going on out there that the NCAA can't, or doesn't want to get a handle on and think BP's punishment fits his crimes then you are out of touch! This has become all about IMAGE for the NCAA; their chance to LOOK tough. Get over it; I'm not embarrassed to have BP as our coach and believe he'll get this team turned around despite these penalties.

Well said. It's a shame people comment about UT "condoning" CBP actions. He admitted it and said he was wrong. How many of these "casting stones" have admitted they have lied about something? Did they not want forgivness?
I know this is on a major stage, but bottom line is we could all find ourselves in a similar possition with our families or jobs. I dont think any of us would not wont to be given a 2nd chance.

pomp_and_circumstance writes:

Once in...oh, say every 2000 attempts... John Adams can shape a blind ramble into a sensible statement. This "story" is about ESPN, the Godfather and sole owner of major college sports. Bruce is only a puppet on ESPN strings. For that matter, rabid fan bases are puppets on ESPN strings. Why else would anyone listen to bobble heads on Sports Center, or at any game? I have turned on the radio and muted ESPN announcers for years. Sometimes I forget, and pay the price. The UT/Fla game, I went for a pit stop and returned to see Billy Donovan interviewed on the side line. Half time? Did nature's call for relief take twenty minutes? Nope. It was still middle of the first half, and media time out was redefined. That was stupefying to me. No matter the score or the heat of battle, the game stops for ESPN to trot out the leading man of the moment for a minute of puppet performance. In the second half, our interim coach did his obligatory bidding. Enough said.

murrayvol writes:

in response to johnlg00:

They might if they pound it inside against the Vols as much as they did against UGA! Vandy has a VERY strong post game and several guys who can drive to the basket as well. I know all about the friendly refs Vandy always seems to get at home, and I have often wondered why the Vols don't seem to get as much of an advantage in TBA, but Vandy's style is likely to give them LOTS of free-throw opportunities anywhere they play. They are great free-throw shooters who INVITE contact; the Vols are mediocre free-throw shooters who seem to SHY AWAY from contact because they don't WANT to go to the line.

Good analysis. We could use a homecourt advantage today.

murrayvol writes:

in response to usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid:

You DO know that typing in ALL CAPS adds absolutely NO more weight to an already childish post, don't you?

I can answer that. NO.

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

I've never seen 5 basketball players play a worse game of half-court offense in my life. These guys have no direction, and nobody knows what to do with the basketball when they get it. This season's lost...brighter days ahead, though, I hope.

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

..and the bad thing is that it's not like Vanderbilt is playing that much better. They each have 10 turnovers.

ronnioekykid_1999 writes:

this is the saddest sports town in america. only the women can carry the flag in sports here.and 1998 is far gone please realize this.your not even in the top ten in the SEC.how sad

martinvol34 writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Yes, Vandy beat UGA in Nashville.

But I doubt they'll shoot 20 more FTs than the Vols in Knoxville.

Well you don't know sh*t now do you because it appears that the league has decided that Tennessee will suffer along with Bruce Pearl. Note the touch fouls for Vandy and the constant no calls for Tennessee for the third game in a row. Blatant knock downs and no calls on our side. Over the back by Vandy and TN players get the foul. So yeah, they'll shoot 20 FT's in Knoxville.

martinvol34 writes:

in response to minnehan:

Pearl is his own worst enemy

Actually why is no one focused on Josh Selby and the kid at Ohio State who attended the cookout, UNINVITED, while they were commits and then turned over the infamous photo when TN beat Ohio State in the regionals last year. No one is innocent here and all these kids know they're breaking the rules also so why are they not focused on those two idiots?

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

Wow!! Well, aren't I the world's biggest idiot! Here I say the season's over, and the guys come back from 17 down and win! GBO!!!!

pammyvol1000 writes:

Great Win for the Vols today!!! This gets our fans back in it for the Ga game!!
Pearl > the worst is yet to come for him. Is he being punished for the BBQ and calling or is he being ran over for telling a lie??

500megawatt writes:

Thank that idiot Mike Slive for this. The dummy figured he better do something to earn that big salary the SEC pays him, so he suspends Pearl. Brilliant. As if the University hadn't punished Pearl enough. The University's punishment directly affected Pearl and no one else. The SEC's punishment affects the entire University. Slive must have bet on another school and wants to protect his bets.

vol_4_fan writes:

in response to usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid:

I would understand your point if they didn't beat the dead horse of Pearl vs NCAA when they came to town. I really don't think that the exposure in this context will really help the program all that much. I hope I'm wrong.

You are right. My point was that this trip was planned before all of the NCAA stuff, so for ESPN to plan their first gameday site for Knoxville is the respect that we were building. Go Vols!

vols_fan_n_tx writes:

in response to ronnioekykid_1999:

this is the saddest sports town in america. only the women can carry the flag in sports here.and 1998 is far gone please realize this.your not even in the top ten in the SEC.how sad

Go away. No one cares about your random idiotic opinion.

Juzkruzin writes:

in response to newportvol:

vandy 73
Vols 65

You must be the only Newport Idiot that thinks this way!! In my opinion you aren't from Newport, just Cocke County somewhere. So why not put your actual location on the site. You should have known the BO was coming back with the way the first half ended!! I know ESPN picked Hopson as Player of the Game, but without Big Williams the BO would not have won. Even Ray Charles could have seen that, if he was still around. Big W played his azz of in the second half and to top off the cup cake stole the last inbounds pass to sew up the win. Vandy is our KY in football. They backed off in the second half just enough to give TN a run and did they rub (Vandy clean out of TBA). To put Newport with your name and then make a up a score like that is why everyone thinks Newport is a bunch of "mountain hicks", but keep on picking the BO to lose it brings them luck.

Juzkruzin writes:

in response to newportvol:

vandy 73
Vols 65

You must be the only Newport Idiot that thinks this way!! In my opinion you aren't from Newport, just Cocke County somewhere. So why not put your actual location on the site. You should have known the BO was coming back with the way the first half ended!! I know ESPN picked Hopson as Player of the Game, but without Big Williams the BO would not have won. Even Ray Charles could have seen that, if he was still around. Big W played his azz of in the second half and to top off the cup cake stole the last inbounds pass to sew up the win. Vandy is our KY in football. They backed off in the second half just enough to give TN a run and did they rub (Vandy clean out of TBA). To put Newport with your name and then make a put up a score like that is why everyone thinks Newport is a bunch of "mountain hicks", but keep on picking the BO to lose it brings them luck.

Juzkruzin writes:

in response to usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid:

..and the bad thing is that it's not like Vanderbilt is playing that much better. They each have 10 turnovers.

Looked to me like they knew what to do with it. Wasn't a pretty win, but at the end of the season, when the marbles are counted it doesn't say pretty win, ugly it just says w or l. That is all that matter. I guess from your name you were in the Navy and that says it all. The only ones in the Navy that I appericiate and respect or the Seals. They are some azz kicking dudes. Yep, I spent my time in the Military, 25 years of it, with two (2) tours in Viet Namn as a door gunner. Not sitting 15 miles off shores shooting missiles, etc. I guess you played for Duke, NC, KS, UConn didn't you? You take what you can recruit and make a team out of it. Good Days, Bad Days. Today started off Bad, but then turnrd GREATTTTTT, as Tony the Tiger says. If you have nothing positive to say about the way our "Young Men" came back today, never giving up, showing the hearts they have you need to get you rubber duckie and go play on the TN River!! A super come back from a team, known as TBO, today and if you didn't think that you need to get the H out of TN!!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Juzkruzin:

Looked to me like they knew what to do with it. Wasn't a pretty win, but at the end of the season, when the marbles are counted it doesn't say pretty win, ugly it just says w or l. That is all that matter. I guess from your name you were in the Navy and that says it all. The only ones in the Navy that I appericiate and respect or the Seals. They are some azz kicking dudes. Yep, I spent my time in the Military, 25 years of it, with two (2) tours in Viet Namn as a door gunner. Not sitting 15 miles off shores shooting missiles, etc. I guess you played for Duke, NC, KS, UConn didn't you? You take what you can recruit and make a team out of it. Good Days, Bad Days. Today started off Bad, but then turnrd GREATTTTTT, as Tony the Tiger says. If you have nothing positive to say about the way our "Young Men" came back today, never giving up, showing the hearts they have you need to get you rubber duckie and go play on the TN River!! A super come back from a team, known as TBO, today and if you didn't think that you need to get the H out of TN!!

Not that he needs me to defend him, but the Navy guy is as pro-Vol as anybody on this board. You were just looking for something to criticize. If you read all of his posts, he was merely saying what we all saw; the Vols looked about as bad as a pretty good team CAN look in the first half, but they got it together to win a tough one in the second. All Vol fans should be able to appreciate that. We don't need to pick on each other over matters of tone or emphasis. That is the trolls' job(;-P)!

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