In their perfect world, most sports fans would like to see the NCAA handle rules violations as follows: My school gets a pass; everyone else gets firebombed. And it doesn’t matter what the violations are. Us good. Them bad. Let us go. Crush them.
In their perfect world, most members of the sports media would like to see the NCAA handle rules violations as follows: If you do X, you are punished with Y. Anyone doing X gets Y. End of story. All Xs are met with Ys.
Trouble is, neither group gets its way on this one. Why? Because the NCAA has been happy to smack big and small schools alike in recent decades (sorry, fans) and no two NCAA cases are exactly the same and therefore no two NCAA rulings are going to be exactly the same (sorry, media).
The NCAA’s legal process is very much like our own legal system. If I get pulled over for driving 75 in a 55 zone, I might get out of the ticket if I’m apologetic and respectful toward the officer. If I’m belligerent, I’m getting that ticket. Exact same crime… two different punishments.
Think about it. No two murder trials are the same. If this person kills someone and that person kills someone else, there’s no guarantee that both criminals will get the exact same jail sentence.
I say this because Frank Haith’s five-game suspension at Missouri — announced today by the NCAA — has opened the crypt on Bruce Pearl’s three-year show cause penalty that is set to expire before next season. Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com — a man who co-hosted a satellite radio show with Pearl — writes today that both Haith and Pearl lied to the NCAA. But one got what was effectively a three-year ban (and his assistants got one-year bans) and the other got a five-game suspension. The easy verdict: The NCAA was out to get Pearl or Tennessee (as some Vol fans will most certainly suggest) while giving a pass to Haith and Mizzou.
Parrish runs through the backstory of Pearl’s downfall. The coach had a few high school juniors to his house for a barbecue. That’s a no-no. And Pearl would have likely received a slap on the wrist had he just fessed up. He did not. And neither did his assistants. For lying to the NCAA the head coach and his aides were slapped around pretty good. Even though Pearl eventually called the NCAA back for a second interview and admitted to lying during the first go-round, it was show causes for everyone.
Parrish also breaks down what he read in the NCAA’s report on Haith and his failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance while at Miami:
“… the most important thing you need to know is that the NCAA made a ‘factual conclusion’ that Haith changed his story multiple times about why he issued unusual ‘advanced checks’ to three assistants. According to the report, Haith initially said the check were issued because the assistants ‘had personal obligations and were financially struggling’ before ultimately acknowledging that he wrote the check to create cash designated to repay former booster Nevin Shapiro in hopes of ensuring he wouldn’t talk about a number of things, including an allegation that Shapiro had used money to help secure a commitment from a basketball report named Dequan Jones.”
Parrish’s point is simple to understand: Pearl lied about a secondary violation and got a show cause penalty. Haith lied about paying a booster hush money yet he only got a five-game sit-down.
Tennessee fans — and Pearl and his assistants — have a right to wonder what the heck’s going on with this one. Missouri fans and Haith — as we wrote earlier today — should be breathing a sigh of relief over Haith’s punishment.
But for us as outsiders, it’s important to remember that we weren’t in the interview rooms for any of these debriefings. Perhaps the NCAA’s investigators felt Pearl was being more elusive than Haith. There’s no way to know.
Also, Parrish leaves out a couple of points regarding the Pearl situation. The ex-Tennessee coach had previously been slapped on the wrist while at Wisconsin-Milwaukee for having a junior prospect at his house. More importantly, Pearl also placed a phone call to the father of current-Ohio State guard Aaron Craft — one of the juniors who attended Pearl’s Knoxville barbecue — before the man had his own meeting with NCAA investigators. According to the NCAA’s notice at the time, Pearl reportedly reminded Craft’s father that it was an NCAA violation for his family to attend the barbecue and that he had given them all the choice of attending. Craft’s father — under NCAA pressure to fess up or see his own son punished — told investigators that he believed that Pearl was trying to influence his statements to the NCAA.
So there’s a bit more to this comparison than simply the “they both lied” thing. Was one type of cover-up worse than the other? Did involving a player’s father — witness tampering — make things worse in Pearl’s case? Were the two coaches grilled by the same investigative team or by different people with different views? While that shouldn’t matter when it comes to the letter of the law, we all know that — getting back to our traffic ticket example — some cops are more likely to write tickets than other.
Was one coach more evasive than the other? What is the NCAA’s overall view of each man and did those views weigh into things?
This isn’t to say that Pearl got what he deserved or that Haith deserved more. Or less. It’s just a matter of realizing that no two NCAA cases are the same. No matter how much we demand consistency from NCAA cases, it’s impossible because the cases aren’t consistently similar.
In the case of Pearl and Haith, there’s more to these two stories than “a lie for a lie.” Which means it’s no different than watching two different criminal trials on HLN or truTV. The outcomes aren’t likely to be the same.
Which is frustrating as hell to fans and to people caught up in the NCAA justice system.