Ugh. Bruce Pearl, the men’s basketball coach for Maccabi USA and the Tennessee Volunteers—the latter of which were Tablet Magazine’s official 2010 NCAA tournament team—admitted Friday that he had lied to NCAA investigators about making excessive calls to recruits. As a result, he is being docked $1.5 million in pay over the following five years and barred from off-campus recruiting for one year (a major competitive disadvantage). All this, if he is lucky: There is a decent chance he will get fired.
This is majorly dispiriting not only because Pearl is a prominent Jewish coach (and an excellent coach to boot), but because he really is a mensch, who gave a ton of time to philanthropy and to the University of Tennessee’s and Nashville’s Jewish communities. Indeed, Jewish charities with which he is affiliated are backing him: “People make mistakes,” Maccabi USA’s executive director said, “and he has owned up and taken responsibility for them.”
It is entirely apt to note that, first, the NCAA’s rules are byzantine, insane, and designed mainly to extend its own power, and that the notion of the NCAA upholding ethics is a bit like the notion of a fox standing up for the defense of henhouses. It is further apt to note that this makes Pearl approximately the one-billionth coach at a major-conference program to fall afoul of NCAA guidelines. But that does not change what he did. The only genuine consolation to take from this sad affair is the hope that Pearl genuinely holds himself to a higher standard—as he has always seemed to do—and is genuinely contrite. Owning up to wrongdoing is the first step, and it is altogether appropriate that Pearl came clean last Friday, on the second of the ten Days of Repentance.