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The Importance of Being Earnest

Comparing the self-inflicted plight of Bruce Pearl to that of Jim Tressel is absolutely lazy, yet it’s being done with breathtaking imprecision all throughout sports media.

It’s not all that surprising, given that people generally rely on the media to give them already-digested information in order to avoid – gasp – actually reading something that could be potentially long and boring (eww gross you guys!) Anyway, you’re probably not a Tennessee fan if you’re reading this, so allow me to brief you on exactly what he did to get fired:

1) Sept 20, 2008: Pearl holds a barbecue at his house with several recruits, including a kid you might be familiar with named Aaron Craft, a one-time Tennessee verbal. A photo is taken of Craft and Pearl together at Pearl’s house (this detail will be important in a bit). Having juniors off-campus for recruiting purposes is a no-no.

2) Almost two years later, June 14, 2010: NCAA interviews Pearl and shows him a copy of the photo of him and Craft together at his house. Pearl lies to the NCAA about where the photo was taken. The photo of him and Craft. At his house. He lied about his house being his house.

3) Summer 2010: Pearl calls Craft’s father and clarifies that the barbecue at his house shouldn’t have happened. The tone of the call comes across as though Pearl is trying to massage father Craft’s testimony, per father Craft.

4) Aug 5, 2010: Pearl “realizes" that his house is his house and suddenly remembers that the photo of him and Craft was indeed taken at his house. He could not have been confused about the NCAA rule that prohibits off-campus contact with high school juniors since he had already been nailed for the same thing at Wisconsin-Milwaukee when he invited a then-junior to his house for his daughter’s graduation party in 2004, the year before he left for Tennessee.

5) One month later: Tennessee receives the kind of letter from the NCAA no school wants to receive. Pearl tearfully apologizes.

6) Four whole days after his tearful apology: Pearl commits another recruiting violation involving incidental contact with an Oak Hill Academy player; fails to disclose this (i.e. lying by omission).

7) November 2010: Pearl is suspended for eight SEC games by the SEC.

Bruce Pearl's infraction list is a little longer than Tressel's.

8) February 2011: Tennessee receives a notice of allegations from the NCAA.

9) Yesterday: Pearl’s contract is terminated, as UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton indicates that Pearl’s list of transgressions includes those that occurred in September (the aforementioned “bump" violation with the Oak Hill player) and one or more that occurred in March 2011. That’s not a typo – he’s talking about this month.

Back when Indiana hired known and convicted cheater Kelvin Sampson and he predictably cheated at IU in the same manner that he had been caught doing at Oklahoma, Indiana fired him and subsequently flushed its basketball program, giving itself what amounted to a death penalty (the only player left on the roster for Tom Crean was a converted walk-on; IU is still barely undead years later). The precedent for Pearl’s punishment is Sampson’s. The precedent for Tressel is not Pearl. There’s very little that is ambiguous or transitive about what’s happened at both schools.

In short, here’s Team Pearl’s body of work:

- Impermissible contact with prospective student-athletes resulting from a cumulative total of 96 impermissible phone calls over a 24-month period (Aug. 1, 2007 through July 29, 2009).

- Impermissible contact with prospective student-athletes during an unofficial visit, acting contrary to the principles of ethical conduct, failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance, and failure to monitor the activities regarding compliance of all assistant coaches within the men's basketball program.

- Impermissible contact with a prospective student-athlete at his high school.

- Failure to furnish full and complete information relevant to the investigation.

That last bolded bullet is a really big deal – along with kids getting any piece of the money pie and determining a true national champion on the field, the NCAA really hates when you lie to their faces. That bullet is also the one and only overlap that Tressel has with Pearl – lying to the NCAA. Tressel lied in September and again in December; he’s been punished and he’ll be punished some more. The case for firing him is flimsy, unless you’re a desperate Michigan fan in which case it makes perfect sense to take down like Al Capone on tax evasion.

Being intellectually curious is generally good for you and everyone else, so ask yourself this: If you were told that of the 12 coaches who have been nailed on violation 10.1 since 2006, 11 have been fired, would you think it was inevitable that Tressel is going to be fired?

Now ask yourself, gullible consumer of already-digested news, if you learned that of those 12 guilty coaches that only one of them was only guilty of 10.1, and not the serial, rampant variety of cheating that Pearl demonstrated at Tennessee, would you feel the same way? That statistic has been repeated by Bruce Hooley, Brian Cook at MGoBlog and every talking head on sports radio and every message board on the Internet over and over again without any detail or context, and deliberately. It makes it a lot easier to prove your baiting point without the particulars baked in.

Tressel committed no recruiting violations, so Ohio State shouldn’t get any recruiting sanctions. He gained unfair advantage by playing what should have been ineligible players, so you’ll see some wins and probably a Big Ten title that will be shipped off to Calipari land, rightfully so. There could be additional punishment levied on Tressel and the athletic department at large if it’s found guilty of failure to monitor or to promote compliance (two plaques that currently hang in the Michigan football locker room, by the way – and that’s not why Rich Rodriguez was fired).

Tressel lied by omission and then again lied directly by indicating to the NCAA that he was unaware of any potential NCAA violations committed by his players. There isn’t any sugarcoating of what Tressel did here; just differentiation to the degree to which Pearl cheated the foregone conclusion-slash-campaign suggesting he should be terminated.

Pearl cheated and cheated and lied and lied and lied to the NCAA about a photograph of his own house. This is the guy whose career demise people like Gregg Doyel are desperately trying to bridge to Tressel. The only common denominator is that both Pearl and Tressel are liars. Leaving it at that is leaving a whole hell of a lot out of the story.

It would be convenient to pull player transgressions from Youngstown State to Troy Smith into the investigation of Tressel’s lies specific to Tatgate as part of the larger effort to scrape the Teflon off of him. Speaking on behalf of the NCAA, this is not how this case should be viewed or investigated. In fact, even the Tatgate scandal itself is now closed. What’s being investigated here is Tressel’s omission and then deliberate cover-up of it.

Aside from the incomplete data soundbytes and the desperate attempt to link Pearl’s series of violations to Tressel’s, what’s been most interesting is the universal panning of how Tressel addressed his actions to the public with nebulous non-answers and vague, empty statements – as if that’s somehow a new Tressel characteristic that only just arrived with this investigation.

Tressel has treated the media like that at just about every press conference he’s ever held after every game he’s ever coached. That’s kind of his thing whenever he’s behind a bouquet of microphones: He doesn’t say what you think he should say. You all must be new here.

So if you’re told that Tressel deserves what Pearl got by someone dippy enough to rely on Doyel or any other professional baiter for facts, respond with the truth: When it comes to cheating, Tressel just cannot compete with the SEC – few can, really. Of course this smells just as bad from a mile away. That’s why you should look a little closer.

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