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Pearl In Serious, Serious Trouble At Tennessee

The NCAA letter of allegations to Tennessee yesterday brought very few surprises:

* UT’s baseball program was not accused of any violations.

* Instead of handing UT a “failure to monitor” charge regarding football, the NCAA mailed one to Lane Kiffin instead.

* Bruce Pearl and Tony Jones were listed for a violation of the so-called “bump rule” for running into a recruit at Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy just four days after UT announced the program’s self-imposed penalties last September.

If anything, the surprises were mainly positive.  But re-reading the letter, it’s clear that the violation of the “bump rule” — usually a secondary violation — is a bigger deal than initially thought.  Why?  The NCAA listed that as one of the seven major violations Tennessee stands accused of.

The letter states that Pearl and Jones spoke with a recruit for “two to three minutes” at Oak Hill.  That’s a bit more than a bump.  Being that Pearl and UT officials had just finished coming clean and promising “never again,” NCAA officials are clearly of the opinion Pearl and his aide should have run screaming in the other direction when they accidentally (?) bumped into recruit Jordan Adams.  And the NCAA is right.

Everything else in the report was already known — Pearl misled NCAA investigators, he called a recruit’s father in the apparent hopes of getting him to aide in a cover-up of Pearl’s barbecue, the coach was hit with an unethical conduct charge.  Bad, bad and bad.

But all those “bads” could equal a worse. 

The day before UT’s allegations arrived, UConn received its penalties for basketball violations.  Former assistant Beau Archibald was hit with a two-year “show cause” penalty, which basically acts as a two-year ban from NCAA coaching.  (And that’s after Archibald lost his job at UConn, something that didn’t happen to Pearl at Tennessee.)  Head coach Jim Calhoun received only a three-game suspension by comparison.  Why the difference?  According to The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy, NCAA infractions committee chairman Dennis Thomas said that Archibald was found to have engaged in “unethical conduct.”

“Unethical conduct” charges are serious business.  As in death penalty serious.’s Dana O’Neil did the legwork yesterday to find that of the last 20 “unethical conduct” cases to go before the NCAA’s penalty panel, 19 resulted in at least a two-year show cause penalty.

Under such a penalty, Pearl would not only be banned from coaching at Tennessee for two years, but he couldn’t gain employment elsewhere without that new school going to the NCAA and making a darn good case to hire him.

As we’ve stated on numerous occasions, it’s not easy to predict which charges will stick and what penalties the NCAA will hand out to schools and individuals.  Trying to compare one school’s woes to another’s usually provides a poor road map of what to expect in the second school’s case.

But when 19 out of 20 unethical conduct charges result in a two-year show cause ban?  Well, I think Vol fans have a pretty strong indication of what Pearl is facing.

Of course, the NCAA could show lenience.  Pearl did serve an 8-game suspension.  It’s just that in cases of lying coaches, the NCAA has rarely shown lenience.  (And don’t expect Pearl’s salary reduction to count for much at all, by the way.)

At this point, it appears the questions we’ll be asking after Tennessee’s June date with the NCAA are these:

* Will the NCAA hand Pearl a one-year ban — rather than two — because of the 8-game suspension already served?

* Will Pearl resign?

* Will Tennessee fire him?  (They say they won’t now, but…)

* Will Tennessee try somehow to survive a multi-year suspension to Pearl?  (One year, maybe… more than one, near impossible.)

* Will athletic director Mike Hamilton be the man to pick Pearl’s replacement?

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