Tennessee fans aren’t happy. Many of them believe that the SEC office has targeted Bruce Pearl in some sort of bizarro “wag the dog” type effort to spin the Cam Newton story right from the front pages of America’s newspapers.
More than once I’ve been emailed this variation of a classic joke: “Mike Slive is so mad at Auburn that he punished Tennessee.”
See Auburn fans? You’re aren’t the only folks who feel picked on.
There are a few obvious problems with this “distraction” theory, of course:
1. The Bruce Pearl story won’t have any impact on the coverage of the Newton story whatsoever. Newton will still dominate the headlines of Iron Bowl week.
2. The Pearl story now just puts two SEC scandals at the top of the page.
3. Pearl and Tennessee will be in New York this week for the NIT and the national media will make an even bigger story out of the suspension and scandal.
4. Slive had warned Tennessee he might up their self-imposed penalties a full month prior to the Newton story breaking.
Slive said last Friday on a Nashville radio show that one thing in particular made Pearl’s case actionable now. “We wanted to be certain that we understood the established facts before we considered what action, if any, the conference should take.” Ah, established facts.
For all the questions being asked like this: “Why won’t the league suspend Newton?” There’s a simple answer that goes like this: “The league doesn’t know if Newton or his family did anything wrong.”
In Pearl’s case, the facts are in. Pearl had three high school juniors over to his house. Pearl and his staff made about 100 improper phone calls over a multi-year span. Making matters much worse, Pearl lied to NCAA investigators when they were closing in on him. Pearl also then went before the media and admitted his guilt.
Fact, fact, fact… and fact. Slive said that based on those facts, he felt the league needed to make a move. At first, he considered a full-year suspension from conference play, but then he took into account the fact that Pearl came clean on his own and requested a second meeting with the NCAA. That fact resulted in just a half-year suspension from SEC games.
All of those facts came out as a result of an NCAA investigation. The SEC got the dirt because Tennessee consulted Slive on how it should handle the Pearl matter.
Now, here are the facts we know regarding the Newton case: Some MSU officials have claimed to the SEC that a Newton representative asked for between $100,000 and $180,000 late last year. The NCAA is investigating.
“But Cecil Newton has admitted…” That’s hearsay. A source says Newton has admitted to the NCAA that he asked for cash.
“But two MSU boosters have said…” That’s what the boosters say. Again, Cecil Newton has not stepped to the microphone and bared his soul the way Pearl did. There has been no public admission of guilt. The Newton family has not had a sit-down with Slive or turned over information to him.
The SEC — as we discussed last week — is not an investigative body. It’s not investigating the Newton case, it’s waiting on the NCAA to do that.
The SEC didn’t investigate Pearl, either. Slive made a decision based on a public admission of guilt and on facts that came to light via the NCAA’s look-see into Tennessee.
Pearl = Facts.
Newton = Hearsay, rumors, unnamed sources.
There’s a big difference there.
Now, if/when the NCAA clues in the SEC to the fact that Newton did admit that he asked for cash then Slive will have an established fact in hand. If/when that occurs, he’ll have to decide what to do about ol’ Cecil violating this SEC bylaw:
“If at any time before or after matriculation in a member institution a student-athlete or any member of his/her family receives or agrees to receive, directly or indirectly, any aid or assistance beyond or in addition to that permitted by the Bylaws of this Conference (except such aid or assistance as such student-athlete may receive from those perssons on whom the student is naturally or legally dependent for support), such student-athlete shall be ineligible for competition in any intercollegiate sport within the Conference for the remainder of his/her college career.”
That’s a pretty black and white rule. Much like the facts in the Pearl case. If the facts in the Newton case ever become just as black and white, then I would expect Slive to hand down a ruling from Mt. Olympus.
Until then, the facts aren’t in.
And that’s the difference between one case and the other.