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Vols Facing No-Win Scenario In Pearl Case

Pity the University of Tennessee administration.  Their decision in September of 2010 to stand by Bruce Pearl is coming back to haunt them today.

For you fans of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” UT is facing the Kobayashi Maru — the ultimate no-win scenario.  The school’s options are:

A) Fire the best (and most popular) basketball coach they’ve had in decades in an effort to stave off more serious NCAA penalties to the program (as well as further embarrassment for the university in the national press).  But by doing so, they would tick off a huge slice of their fanbase and likely set back their program for several years.


B) Keep Pearl, continue to be mocked in the press and await the NCAA’s ultimate judgement knowing that nearly 100% of coaches charged with lying to the NCAA and/or trying to get others to cover up are fired and given a two-year coaching ban.  The penalties against the school will no doubt be greater if Pearl is kept and it’s possible he could be suspended for two years and his ouster forced in the long run anyway.  Those sanctions and suspension would also likely set back their program back for several years.

Now that is a no-win scenario… and UT officials would not be in such a predicament had Pearl not put them in it.  By breaking some smaller rules and then lying about it — as his assistants did, too — he backed himself and the school to the edge of a cliff.  The only alternatives are bad and worse.  And bad would be misunderstood, making it worse.

Already, many Vol fans are threatening boycotts.  Athletic director Mike Hamilton is catching the blame for wanting Pearl fired.  Only he probably doesn’t want to fire his signature hire.

In reality, no one at UT is gleeful about the situation they’re facing.  If not for the black cloud of the NCAA floating over head, Pearl would be as safe as a coach can be.  But with that black could very much in place, UT’s powerbrokers have apparently decided to choose the lesser of two evils and Hamilton is left to deliver the news to angry fans.

I have a pet and my vet recently discovered cancer in his leg.  I had the tumor removed and am hopeful that the cancer won’t return.  But if it does, I’ll face a pretty horrible set of alternatives — amputate the leg in an effort to save my pet or put him to sleep.  Believe me, I’ve stressed over that “what if” scenario.  If I choose to go the amputation route, it won’t be because I want to do it.  It will be done to avoid the more horrible option of putting a good friend down. 

UT’s powers-that-be are faced with a horrible scenario of their own.  Protect the coach who’s done more for their program than any other since the 1970s… or protect the program that he’s built up.  To put it bluntly, do they amputate Pearl in an attempt to save their program?

If the school had simply said last September that it was forcing Pearl to resign, everyone would have placed the blame on the coach for committing serious NCAA sins — lying and covering up.  But by announcing to the world that they would stand by him, UT officials sent a powerful message to Vol Nation that Pearl’s acts weren’t all that bad and that the school had his back. 

Now, faced with the threat of worse penalties and publicity than they had initially imagined, it seems the folks in Knoxville have realized that they made the wrong call back in September.  Too bad for their sakes that they’ve been standing by that decision so steadfastly and so loudly for six months.

The fact that they have only makes a no-win scenario even worse.

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