The University of Pittsburgh’s powerhouse basketball team, ranked third in the nation, was dealt its first home-loss by a nonconference opponent in nearly six years on Saturday, 83-76. The Panthers’ conqueror was the No. 11 and undefeated Tennessee Volunteers, whom readers will recall is Tablet Magazine’s official college basketball team thanks to Coach Bruce Pearl. Pearl is one of the Volunteer State’s most prominent Jews, the most recent coach of the Maccabi USA men’s team, and a general all-around mensch—to say nothing of a fantastic coach.
Readers will also recall that Pearl’s menschiness was called into question in the past several months when news broke that he lied to NCAA investigators about violating guidelines by making excessive calls to recruits. Pearl, who is already being docked $1.5 million in pay over five years and barred from off-campus recruiting for a year, was thought to be in jeopardy as Tennessee’s coach; instead, he has been barred from coaching the Vols’ first eight in-conference games (which begin in January), which on the one hand is something of a slap on the wrist and yet on the other hand is pretty much unprecedented. The NCAA is trying to make an example of Pearl—in part because he has long served as an example of how to be a successful and all-around good head coach.
Those who are not avid college sports fans need to understand that NCAA regulations are less like American laws, generally hard-and-fast, observed by most, and ostensibly grounded in high-minded ethical principles, and more like Italian laws. which are, y’know, not. The NCAA is inherently, perhaps irredemably corrupt, and most of its regulations are designed to reinforce and prolong that corruption. As sportswriter Buzz Bissinger wrote today (about Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and his father, Cecil, who allegedly tried to get $180,000 for his son to play at Mississippi State), “Like the Mafia, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, ostensibly there to sanction college sports and keep the game clean, is really in the business of finding fall guys to protect the multimillion-dollar empire.” Pearl is the latest fall guy. Which doesn’t make what Pearl did right, or even not wrong—and he unequivocally apologized (right before Yom Kippur, coincidentally)—but it does mean that you need not think of him as a bad guy. He is not.
And he is not a bad guy even in the context of college sports, something he wickedly made light of last month, when he told the Knoxville News Sentinel, “I’ve made mistakes, I clearly did, but what I was hoping for was that some other dumbass would get on the front page and take me off the hook. I miss Lane Kiffin.” Kiffin is the former UT head football coach who is basically a parody of NCAA-enabled corruption and ill-dealing. Kiffin has been punished by being made head coach at the University of Southern California, one of our most storied programs. So you’ll see why I don’t feel bad continuing to root for Bruce Pearl and his team.
Scotty Hopson Helps Tennessee Snap Pitt’s Nonconference Home Win Streak [ESPN.com]
Bruce Pearl Gets In Amusing Zinger on “Dumbass” Lane Kiffin [Deadspin]
Related: Bruce Pearl Thinks Worst May Be Over [ESPN.com]
Earlier: Tennesee’s Pearl Holds Onto Job, For Now
Tennessee’s Pearl Admits Violations