Clearing up confusion surrounding Calhoun and Pearl; more musings
I highly doubt Bruce Pearl will be coaching at Tennessee next year
Forget about the top seed line: Duke and Texas would be better off as No. 2 seeds
Why an NBA lockout won't impact college players' decisions; plus my AP ballot
I wish I could just write about seeds and bubble teams today, but last week's headlines preclude it. At the very time of year when the world finally turns its sights to college hoops, our beloved sport suffered twin black eyes with the revelations regarding NCAA investigations at UConn and Tennessee. There seems to be a lot of confusion about these two cases -- what happened, how they're related, and where both schools go from here. Here are answers to the main questions last week's events raised:
Who had the worse week, Jim Calhoun or Bruce Pearl?
I'm going with Calhoun here, because the NCAA rendered its verdict and he actually received his penalty. Calhoun and the school still have the option of appealing the NCAA's decision (they have separate lawyers, which is not unusual), but my understanding is there's a chance they won't. Still, at least they know their worst-case scenario.
Pearl, however, does not. All the NCAA did last week in his case was issue a notice of allegations. Pearl's official hearing in front of the Committee of Infractions won't take place until June. The final verdict won't come until a couple of months after that. It's going to be a long, restless six or seven months for him.
Why did the NCAA only give Calhoun a slap on the wrist?
Actually, I disagree with this premise. In some people's eyes, anything short of a postseason ban or a one-year suspension amounts to a "slap on the wrist." There's a lot of room between those two extremes.
The sanctions placed on Calhoun and his staff will make it a lot more difficult for them to recruit new players. (For example, only being permitted to pay for five official visits instead of the allowable 12.) The three-game suspension of the head coach is virtually unheard of in cases when that coach was not found to have directly committed major violations. It also sets a precedent eliminating the plausible deniability that too many of these guys hide behind. Plus, there's the larger issue of what all this has done to Calhoun's reputation. Many of the same people who assert this was a slap on the wrist have noted that his legacy is stained forever. Can't have it both ways.
The main reason why UConn was not given a postseason ban was that the player at the center of this whole storm, Nate Miles, never played for the Huskies. Miles did enroll but he was soon expelled after a string of transgressions, the last one being a violation of a restraining order. Had that not happened, Miles would have suited up for UConn, and this thing would have been in a different stratosphere.
Keep in mind as well that the two most recent postseason bans handed down by the NCAA in men's basketball, Syracuse in 1993 and Maryland in 1990, both involved findings of direct cash payments from boosters to players, among a large litany of other major violations. In Maryland's case, head coach Bob Wade took recruits to a sporting goods store owned by a booster and let them pick merchandise off the shelves. Then he lied to the NCAA about it and held staff meetings to encourage his assistants to do the same. Yes, Miles received improper benefits from the former team manager turned NBA agent, but Calhoun had a couple of layers of insulation from those transactions. I'm not saying this thing is pretty, but it would have been precedent-shattering, to say the least, if the NCAA had hammered UConn with a postseason ban.
So you think the NCAA's penalty went far enough?
Actually, I don't. The reason I say that is because this case involves an NBA agent. We are operating in a different climate than existed in the early 1990s with respect to agents. They are an enormous cancer on college athletics, and since the NBA Players Association is MIA when it comes to sanctioning these vermin, the NCAA needs to fill the void by severely penalizing programs who affiliate with them. My preference would have been for the NCAA to suspend Calhoun for more than three games, and I think at least one of those games should have been in the Big East or NCAA tournament. To be fair, though, that is a very subjective argument. The bottom line is this was no slap on the wrist.
In the NCAA's infractions report, UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway was quoted as saying that he had never seen Calhoun so involved in a player's recruitment. What does that say about their relationship?
It says that it is over. The relationship between Calhoun and Hathaway, who took over in 2003 after Lew Perkins left for Kansas, has never been lovey dovey. Hathaway obviously did not like what he learned about how Calhoun's program was operating, and Calhoun does not feel that Hathaway has properly backed him up, in public or in private. How bad is it between those two? As one person close to Calhoun told me last week, "I think Jim would talk to Geno [Auriemma] right now before he would talk to Jeff." That's bad.
What does the UConn decision tell us about what will happen at Tennessee?
Many people have tried to read the tea leaves by focusing on the penalties meted out on Calhoun, but the more relevant situation is the one faced by Calhoun's former director of basketball operations, Beau Archibald. He is the only one in this case who was found to have lied to the NCAA. Archibald, who was let go by UConn last fall, was issued a two-year show cause penalty, which means if another school wants to hire him it has to demonstrate to the NCAA why it should be allowed to. The school also has to explain what measures it will put in place to monitor Archibald's activities. The penalty does not ban anyone from hiring Archibald, but it basically renders it unfeasible.
Still, as the saying goes, you never cross the same river twice. While both Archibald and Pearl lied to the NCAA, Pearl essentially lied once, and unlike Archibald he came back a few weeks later to correct the record. Archibald was caught telling lie after lie after lie, not only during his appearance before the committee on infractions but during his initial interview with NCAA investigators. Yet, even though the NCAA has levied much longer show causes in the past, it only saw fit to make Archibald's last two years. Pearl can take some hope from that.
So Pearl has to feel pretty good about his future, right?
Uh, wrong. Even though Pearl and his athletic director, Mike Hamilton, tried to play off the release of the notice of allegations as if it contained no surprises, there was one head-scratching revelation. Four days after Pearl first addressed this situation in an emotional press conference, he committed a secondary violation when he improperly spoke to a recruit during a non-contact period. This is what is commonly known as a "bump," where a coach talks to a player for a few minutes even though he's not supposed to. Bumps happen all the time in recruiting, so it's not a huge deal -- unless you just had a big press conference announcing that you lied to the NCAA. People at Tennessee and the NCAA have to wonder if this is a man who simply can't help himself.
Furthermore, it seems clear that even though Pearl has already served an eight-game SEC suspension the NCAA is going to hit him pretty hard. Yes, he came back to the NCAA and cleared the record, but not until after he had what can charitably be described as an inappropriate conversation with the father of one of the players who attended the now-infamous barbecue at his house. That player's father told the NCAA that he got the impression that Pearl was trying to influence his future testimony. Whether or not that was really Pearl's intent, that was not a call that should have been made, and it undermines the credibility Pearl hoped to regain by asking for a second interview with the NCAA.
Finally, consider the case of former Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant, who was ruled ineligible because he lied to the NCAA about his relationship with Deion Sanders. It's hard to imagine the NCAA would go any easier on a coach for committing essentially the same crime. If anything, you'd figure the NCAA would want to go harder on a coach than a player.
Bottom line: Will Bruce Pearl be coaching at Tennessee next year?
Hard to know for sure, of course, but I highly doubt it. After SEC commissioner Mike Slive suspended Pearl for eight games, Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek said, "Bruce is our coach, and he's going to be for many years." Last week, Hamilton issued a statement pointing out that almost all of the information in the NCAA's notice of allegations had been previously reported. Still, my understanding based on conversations I've had with people at Tennessee is that the school is bracing for the worst. They want to keep Pearl, but they are becoming resigned to the likelihood that the NCAA will make that all but impossible later this summer, either through a lengthy suspension or a show cause penalty. The administration has not decided on specifically what penalty would force it to jettison its coach. Those folks will know it when they see it, and my anticipation is that they will see it.
Duke and Texas might be trying to get No. 1 seeds, but they'd be better off as a two seeds. Why? Because if either beats out BYU as the last 1 seed, that team would likely be sent out west to Anaheim. If they're a 2, that would mean BYU gets sent to Anaheim, and Duke and Texas would both get to play closer to home -- Duke in Newark or New Orleans, and Texas in San Antonio. Shoot, if I'm Texas, I wouldn't care what seed I was if I could go to San Antonio for the regionals. I mean that literally: Texas is better off being a No. 4 seed in the Southwest than a one seed in the West.
Speaking of Texas, I won't overreact to the pratfall at Colorado, but I do think it's worth mentioning that much of the perception of this team's excellence is tethered to its huge comeback victory at Kansas. This is not an excuse, but that game was played the day after the Jayhawks learned that sophomore forward Thomas Robinson's mother had died suddenly of a heart attack. The players were up all night crying with their teammate, and they grieved all morning without wanting to eat breakfast. The team was able to ride its emotions to a 15-point lead, but after that KU ran out of gas. Would Texas have made that comeback if the tragedy hadn't happened? We'll never know for sure, but I believe the answer is no.
Getting back to BYU, the tournament dodged a bit of a bullet because the West regional will be played in Anaheim on a Thursday and Saturday. If it was scheduled for Friday and Sunday, the committee would not be able to send BYU there because the university, which is operated by the Mormon church, does not hold events on Sundays. Imagine if BYU were a No. 1 seed but couldn't be sent to its native region. The committee would have to either swap BYU with one of the other 1 seeds, which would mean that other team would be unfairly sent far away from home, or the committee would have to drop BYU to the 2 line and send another 2 seed to Anaheim as the 1.