Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pearl, Tressel and "the Great White Defendant"

In "Bonfire of the Vanities," his prophetic novel of class, greed and institutional/individual corruption, novelist Tom Wolfe introduced us to the notion of the "Great White Defendant." The term refers to the absolute glee in which cops, prosecutors, judges and juries bring to any case involving the rich, the powerful, the privileged.

This week we were again reminded that the NCAA understands the concept. How widely it intends to apply it remains to be seen.

Tennessee fired Bruce Pearl on Monday, but here's betting every dollar in the UT athletic budget that the NCAA, not Vol AD Mike Hamilton, swung the ax.

By now most of us know that Pearl, the first Tennessee coach since Ray Mears to put together an era of prolonged hoops excellence, had trouble following the rules. He violated regulations about entertaining high school junior recruits at his home, then, when caught on camera, lied about it to the NCAA.

The devil, a rather large and ornery one, is in that second detail. It makes the Pearl case a major one, the difference between speeding, and speeding while having an opened bottle of Basil Hayden, an unlicensed .45 and an unchaperoned 16-year-old brunette all in your lap.

Back in the fall, Pearl snuffled his way through a mea culpa press conference, accepted a big pay cut and an SEC suspension, then went out and cheated again, this time illegally "bumping" into a recruit and declining to say anything to his school or the NCAA about it.

That was it. Hamilton, who soon should be cleaning out his own desk because of the twin hirings of Pearl and Lane Kiffin -- which has led to twin NCAA investigations into both programs -- clearly wanted to keep his basketball guy. The university's administration, perhaps alerted to the fury that would rain down from Indianapolis if Pearl stayed, overruled him. For the first time in a long time, sanity prevailed on the banks of the Tennessee.

It's too soon to say whether Pearl's departure earns UT any style points with their friends in the NCAA.

But there's no better time to make a prediction: Ohio State is about to get thumped.

We know, we know. The honorable Jim Tressel has done the honorable thing. Rather than take the two-game suspension for knowingly suiting up ineligible players throughout the 2010 season, then lying about it to his school and the NCAA, Tressel has volunteered to sit out five games. That's the same penalty assigned several of his star kids who took thousands of dollars in illegal benefits from the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor.

The NCAA took the path of least resistance, least logic, but the biggest bucks in allowing the players to suit up for the Buckeyes' Sugar Bowl matchup with Arkansas. Only afterward did Tressel allow that, well, um, he knew more about the matter than he had first allowed.

Let's review: In Pearl, we have a coach who built a Top 20 basketball program, broke the rules and then told a bald-faced lie to the wrong group of folks.

In Tressel, we have the coach of a Top 5 football program who knew his kids were breaking the rules, said nothing for months, kept those kids on the field, then hid key parts of the truth when the story finally surfaced.

Here, ladies and gentleman of the jury, we have our Great White Defendant -- a coach and a school at the highest rung of the pecking order; an athletic department that leads the country in reported NCAA violations but which hasn't felt the NCAA's lash since Woody Hayes made sense; a school that forced the NCAA to make an embarrassing and highly publicized decision based on what the agency now knows to be a series of lies.

It's hard to imagine Ohio State firing Tressel -- especially given the sycophantic performances given by the school's president and athletic director at the press conference to announce Tressel's initial punishment. Funny, TOSU hoped to use that announcement to get in front of the story. Instead it made it worse.

Now, Tennessee's firing of Pearl -- and the NCAA's likely role in bringing that about -- has complicated matters further. It has also left Ohio State at a torturous decision point straight from another great work of American fiction: "The Lady or the Tiger."

1. It can fire its highly successful coach.
2. Or it can face the fire of an unhappy and humiliated NCAA.

What's it going to be, Buckeyes?



Anonymous said...

What's it going to be UNC?

J said...

It was interesting how Hamilton was 100% behind Pearl until last week when he said "the jury is still out." That does seem to indicate the NCAA called him and told him what his opinion should be.

As for TOSU, Iwouldn't be surprised if the NCAA does not come down much harder on Tressel or TOSU. I think they are going to apply the same logic that the Fed has applied to the "too big to fail" banks. I think they will label TOSU, as a football program, "too big to ban." Remember, they are THE OSU, they never play the little sisters of the poor (Akron and Toledo are obvious BCS title contenders, right?) and the president is hoping the head football coach doesn't fire him. I think if they weren't "too big to ban," Tressel and all the tatoo afficianados would have been suspended for the Sugar Bowl.

Michael said...
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Michael said...
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Michael said...


Everything you say is true, but it had an expiration date: when the NCAA took TOSU's word to make its ludicrous eligibility decision and then learned that Tressel lied.

It's not nice to fool Indianapolis.

The feeling here is that TOSU will soon be sent out to pick its switch. We're about to witness a beating.

Interesting that at least one ACC wanderer always turns up to remind us about Carolina. Once their transgressions looked more bigtime than their program. Now, they're almost an afterthought.

Been a tough year in college football.

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