By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS
Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl was fired this week. But was he fired for recruiting violations or for losing to Michigan by 30 points?
If Tennessee was going to fire him for recruiting violations, one would think the university would have moved more quickly and decisively. According to ESPN, Pearl was informed on Monday that his tenure at Tennessee was over. Supposedly, Tennessee Athletic Director had been extremely supportive of Pearl, but then changed his tune in the last week of the season, when he announced there had been a lot of "soul searching" about whether to keep Pearl.
According to ESPN, officials at Tennessee have known since mid-December that Pearl's promises to abide by NCAA rules were worth little more than the crocodile tears he shed last Sept. 10. In a press conference that day, Pearl admitted misleading investigators who were looking into possible recruiting violations. But in December, Tennessee officials were informed that Pearl would be charged with another recruiting violation, one he's accused of committing on Sept. 14, just days after his tearful press conference.
But Pearl had developed a winning program at Tennessee, leading the program to six straight NCAA tournament appearances. That made him popular, with a recent poll showing that 70 percent of Tennessee fans supported him. Students still love him, even after the firing.
Fox Sports says the fear of NCAA sanctions pushed Tennessee to dump Pearl. But the university has know about the possibility of sanctions for months. If the university was going to fire Pearl because he misled investigators, and continued committing NCAA violations even after feeling the heat, the university should have fired him much sooner. But it's hard to fire a winner. It's much easier to fire someone who just got bounced from the tournament by 30 points.
And Sporting News points out that Tennessee leadership had some responsibility for the Sept. 14 recruiting violation. After learning of the NCAA investigation and that Pearl had misled investigators, Tennessee placed a self-imposed a recruiting suspension on Pearl and his staff. If the university had imposed that ban after the tearful Sept. 10 press conference, Pearl would not have been on the recruiting road on Sept. 14, when the NCAA says the latest violation occurred. But Tennessee wanted Pearl to be out recruiting during that critical period in September, so the university delayed the suspension. And that's when the NCAA slapped him again.