Tennessee's get-together with the NCAA on Saturday will be a challenging time for its fans.
Fans are uneducated as to what's appropriate when their program is on trial. As thick as an NCAA manual might be, there's no chapter on how to act or what to wear for an NCAA hearing. Fans can't even get a starting time, which is why a UT fan from Indianapolis emailed me.
She was curious when UT coaches and administrators would be arriving and departing NCAA headquarters Saturday. She thought UT alums in Indianapolis might want to show their support.
How's that for a testament to the passion and loyalty of UT fans? They would consider giving up part of their weekend to stand outside a building in downtown Indianapolis.
They won't be able to hear the hearing. They won't have an opportunity to buy an overpriced soft drink or hot dog. They won't even get inside.
I was so moved by the fan's email, I felt compelled to help.
As to appropriate dress, almost anything goes for an NCAA hearing. But a couple of "don'ts" are worth noting. Female fans should make sure no one mistakes them for an Orange Pride hostess. And male fans should make sure no one mistakes them for former UT coach Lane Kiffin (i.e., don't wear a white visor, white long-sleeve Nike shirt and orange shorts).
Behavior is more important than dress. Don't confuse this with a political protest, or act as though you're at Thompson-Boling Arena. Your goal isn't to heckle an official into a favorable call. The less said the better. In fact, you are better off delivering your message with a sign than a shout.
Here are a few suggestions, all of which are hopefully concise enough for committee members to read without breaking stride.
No. 1: "Respect UT history." Although Tennessee has had a few NCAA fender benders, it has never served hard time. That should count for something.
Whoever is carrying that sign should be standing next to a fan carrying this sign: "Tennessee is no Kentucky," just to make sure the committee keeps the Vols' basketball transgressions in perspective.
And whoever is carrying that sign should be standing next to a fan with the sign: "Bruce Pearl is no John Calipari."
Another sign that might be appropriate: "We're not that good," a self-deprecating reminder of the gains actually accrued by the Vols for breaking NCAA rules. It's not as though they made it to the Final Four, played for the BCS national championship, or won enough games to earn their coach an NFL promotion (see Pete Carroll for details).
Remember, this isn't a game. You don't take the same sign to an NCAA hearing that you would to Neyland Stadium. It's important to keep your ego in check.
For example, take former Southern California athletic director Mike Garrett, who implied the NCAA's pursuit of the Trojans was driven by jealousy. "They wish they were all Trojans," he told USC boosters.
As well received as that might be in the friendly confines of a booster club meeting, it doesn't play as well at NCAA headquarters. That might help explain why USC's sentence seemed overly harsh for the crime. It also might help explain why Garrett is no longer USC's athletic director.
Since the NCAA's opinion of USC is already in the books, UT fans at the hearing probably could further their cause with the sign: "Blame Kiffin; we do." Just make sure the lettering is in garnet and gold to remind the committee Kiffin is now the head coach at USC, not UT.
Kiffin hurt the Vols more by leaving after one year than he did by violating NCAA rules. Because of his sudden departure, the program is on its third football coach in four years and consequently has suffered significant player attrition. Combine that with the damage done to the basketball program, which already has fired Pearl, one of the most successful and popular coaches in school history.
That's worth one more sign: "What's the penalty for piling on?"