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SEC Headlines – 12/10/10 Part Two

1.  Another Southern voter explains his decision to back Cam Newton.

2.  Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer praises Urban Meyer for having the “courage” to walk away from coaching.  (No puns or sarcasm, just a nice comment from one of Meyer’s old victims.)

3.  The UT basketball team will need to upset #3 Pittsburgh to become Bruce Pearl’s first 7-0 squad in Knoxville.

4.  Vandy is working to hire Gus Malzahn with James Franklin waiting in the wings, but Greg Roman and Don Treadwell are still in the picture should Malzahn say no and Maryland fight to keep Franklin.

5.  Alabama and Michigan State are seeking a happy ending.  (Aren’t we all?)

6.  Nick Saban continues to say great things about his “good friend” Meyer.

7.  Anthony Grant says that JaMychal Green — fresh off a three-game suspension — will eventually have a chance to rejoin the starting lineup.

8.  Cecil Newton announced yesterday that he’ll skip the Heisman presentation.

9.  Cam — spawn of Cecil — will be in New York tomorrow.

10.  This writer says not enough folks are kissing Gene Chizik’s ring.

11.  This writer expects the Florida vacancy to be filled shortly.

12.  Pitt’s Dave Wannstedt will reportedly coach in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Kentucky… giving his team some extra motivation.  (Meanwhile, UK’s quarterback has been arrested.  Things are starting to lean toward the Panthers, no?)

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Auburn Stars Take Home Some Major Awards

When you win, your players get noticed.  Then they win awards.

Here’s guessing, however, that Cam Newton and Nick Fairley would have taken home the AP’s offensive and defensive Player of the Year awards even if Auburn had gone 9-3.  Those guys get noticed all by themselves.

Newton became the first SEC player to ever rush for 1,000 yards and throw for 2,000 in the same season.

Fairley took over games — his one man sack, strip and recovery against Alabama was as good a play as you’ll see — and he made some, er, “big” hits in the process. 

Can’t argue with their taking home the AP’s honors.  Don’t expect the award rush to stop anytime soon, either.  Newton is one of four players who’ll head to New York for his week’s Heisman Trophy presentation.  The only way he doesn’t win that award is if voters decide to penalize him for his father’s pay-for-play plan… something the NCAA and SEC did not do.  (Personally, I don’t know how someone could not vote for him and then look in a mirror.  He was cleared.  He was spectacular.)

South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore captured the AP’s Freshman of the Year honors.

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Pearl Says Character On Trial, Wife Compares Him To Jesus

Mike Slive probably knew exactly what he was doing in handing Bruce Pearl a first-of-it’s-kind eight-game suspension from the SEC.  The punishment was decreed on Friday.  This week Pearl is in New York for the NIT Season Tip-Off. 

Add the two together and you get Pearl being grilled by the New York press.

1.  That should deter Pearl from cheating again.

2.  The NCAA might notice how the coach is being publicly shamed and decide go a little lighter when it hands down its own punishment.

But Pearl not only has to worry about the New York press and NCAA at this point.  He has to worry about his wife.  Specifically what she might say on Facebook next.

First the New York presser and reaction…

Tennessee’s basketball coach explained during a 45-minute interview what he did wrong, why he covered up, why he eventually came clean, etc.

Among his points covered in The Knoxville News Sentinel:

* Pearl expressed disappointment in an ESPN headline that stated he was “confident” the NCAA wouldn’t come down on Tennessee with harsher penalties.  “I’m hoping — not confident — that the worst of the penalties are behind us.  I’m confident our university has been proactive and laid down some unprecedented penalties.”

* Pearl said this experience has been “humbling and humiliating.”  “I’m hurt, and my character is on trial.”

* Pearl pointed out that he has been guilty of only a limited number of secondary violations during his 20 years as a head coach.  “All I ask is that people judge me over the course of my career.”

* Tennessee’s coach said that his program had already handed down internal punishments over 97 impermissible phone calls he and his staff had made between 2007 and 2009.  Meaning his punishments came before UT’s administration announced increased punishments in September.

So who covered Pearl’s New York flogging? 

Lenn Robbins of The New York Post says the coach is getting what he deserves on “the Bruce Pearl Humble Pie Tour.”

Mark Viera of The New York Times quotes Pearl as saying, “I let a lot of people down.”

And The Wall Street Journal reports that Pearl is trying to turn the focus to his basketball team.

But that big city grilling wasn’t all Pearl had to deal with yesterday.  Pearl’s wife, Brandy, took to her Facebook page yesterday and posted the following comments:

“Now I know of two Jewish men who have been crucified.  Lord be with my hubby’s spirit.  We will get through this.”

Ugh.  (Full disclosure: Pearl’s wife is a Christian and attends one of Knoxville’s bigger churches.) first reported the story… before the Facebook post was deleted.  “Bruce Almighty,” indeed. 

Since then, and even USA Today have since picked up on the story.

Our take Pearl’s day in Manhattan:

* Pearl made his bed and now he has to lie in it.  (Pun intended.)  His violations were not large, but his cover-up was.  Yes, he did eventually come clean on his own — which likely saved his job — but he’ll get very little credit for that outside of Knox County, Tennessee. 

* As readers of this site know by now, I usually try to put myself in the shoes of the person being pilloried in the press.  At various times I’ve defended John Calipari and Damon Evans.  I wasn’t among those who wanted Chris Rainey jettisoned into space.  There are enough people in this world who scream for “justice” as long as “justice” involves somebody else getting hammered.  That said, Pearl once undermined another coach’s career by turning him in to the NCAA.  The NCAA found that the charges didn’t add up, but Jimmy Collins’ reputation was still damaged by Pearl’s charges.  With that in mind, Pearl should continue his tour of contrition, but he should never sound whiny about it.  His character is no more on trial now than Collins’ was in the 1980s. 

* I will, however, defend the coach’s wife.  Not her stupid comment, mind you, but her.  Comparing someone in today’s world to Christ usually turns out badly for the person making the comparison.  But Brandy Pearl was defending her husband.  From the Pearls’ perspective, the coach surely is being hammered at every turn.  You can be certain that they believe his crimes are no worse than many other coaches’ transgressions.  Now imagine for a second that you were on the business end of hundreds of reporters’ swords.  And now imagine how your family might view that and how they might want to defend you.  The coach’s wife gets a pass for defending her husband.  Her comment, however, was beyond stupid.  And another lesson on why anyone involved in college athletics should stay far, far away from social media.

* Pearl has been embraced by the Knoxville community since his arrival.  However, some Vol fans do want the coach out over his recent NCAA issues.  Might his wife’s comments turn a few more East Tennesseans against the coach?  In case you haven’t noticed, the SEC is located in the Bible Belt and Knoxville is purt’ near the buckle.

* Pearl’s violations at Tennessee are apparently fewer in number than those committed by Jim Calhoun’s UConn program — as discovered through their recent NCAA investigation.  But few people are calling for Calhoun’s head.  Question: Does that make Calhoun Barabbas?

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Established Facts The Big Difference Between Pearl And Newton

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.

That’s it.

“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.

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