After sifting through nearly 200 pages of Tennessee's response to the NCAA, let me offer a tip:
If you get your hands on the report, the best reading is the basketball stuff.
Oh, there are a few football chapters worth studying. But all of the juicy Orange Pride escapade is redacted. Any mention of former assistant coach David Reaves is surrounded by expansive blacked-out sections.
For example, an excerpt from Reaves' August 2010 interview with NCAA investigators:
Reaves: But I had no idea — BLACKED OUT.
This one is equally revealing ...
Reaves: No, here's the thing, — BLACKED OUT.
So what was the thing? Will we ever know? Maybe when the NCAA issues its response to UT's response next month.
The basketball segment is more enlightening. We see poignant passages from the interviews between NCAA investigators and Bruce Pearl and his staff, both the June 14 round when the coaches were not forthcoming and then from the Aug. 5 session when they — belatedly — were.
And while we've all had time to absorb the Pearl era's downfall, reading the report just underscores how unnecessary and, thus, how sad an affair it is — for the coaches, for the long-suffering fans whom Pearl had energized and for UT basketball in general.
Tennessee appears to have first come onto the NCAA's radar in May 2009. The enforcement staff got a report of impermissible phone calls to recruit Elliott Williams of Memphis.
Later in 2009 Lane Kiffin's football recruiting tactics drew more heat. Then, in April 2010, the NCAA received an anonymous item of mail, a photo of recruit Aaron Craft and Pearl.
You know the details of the cookout at Pearl's house on Sept. 20, 2008. Craft wasn't allowed to be there while on an unofficial visit and Pearl knew it.
Then the fateful interview on June 14. One by one, UT's coaches couldn't identify Pearl's kitchen in the photo (NCAA investigator Joyce Thompson apologizes for the grainy reproduction).
Pearl said in the Aug. 5 re-interview that he panicked the first time around:
"I wanted it to go away.''
"It bothered me,'' he added, "from the minute I walked outta here.''
Assistant Steve Forbes employed the Photoshop defense.
"You know how many times I've seen him Photoshopped?'' Forbes asked Thompson in the Aug. 5 session. "A lot.''
Forbes mentioned the boat pictures that made the Internet rounds a few years back.
"I see him on a boat with his family,'' Forbes said, "and then the next time I see it the kids are cropped out and there's three girls with bikinis on, OK. It happens a lot.''
Tony Jones used the reasonable-doubt defense. He stood firm in the Aug. 5 interview that he couldn't say, "100 percent sure," that was Pearl's kitchen.
Jason Shay played the don't ask, don't tell card.
Asked on Aug. 5 why he hadn't identified his wife, Jana Shay, in the background of the photo during the June interview, Shay replied:
"It wasn't asked of me.''
The damage was done that June day and it would quickly be compounded by what the NCAA suspects was Pearl attempting a cover-up by contacting Craft's father.
All the rest, the excessive phone calls, the "bump" at Oak Hill Academy, it all could have been absorbed.
Even the cookout likely wouldn't have been viewed as an NCAA felony if Pearl had owned up to it from the start.
But when he and his guys didn't, they had crossed a line. Every detail became magnified. Like when the NCAA investigator asked Jones: Was the food cooked at home or was it catered?
Little things. But there in those interview transcripts is the one big thing:
For whatever reasons, somebody didn't handle the truth.