Trouble in Knoxville?
Bruce Pearl & Co. need to tread lightly.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
Not long after Lane Kiffin left the Tennessee Volunteer football program with minor NCAA infractions, the rocky times continue on Rocky Top. Now Bruce Pearl’s growing basketball program, coming off an Elite 8 appearance, have been contacted by the NCAA about potential recruiting violations, more specifically, possible excessive contact between coaches and prospects. Multiple sources have reported that both head coach Bruce Pearl and assistant Terry Jones have spoken with the NCAA.
Though no official word has been made, a press conference has been scheduled for tomorrow in Knoxville, most likely to announce a NCAA letter of inquiry into the Vols hoops program.
It’s mostly speculative, but the growing perception is the inquiry might have to do with the recruitment of Josh Selby, the highly recruited incoming Kansas freshman who initially chose to play for Bruce Pearl before eventually landing with the Jayhawks (and whose own NCAA eligibility is currently under review).
Saying it’s been an interesting year in Knoxville is like saying Bruce Pearl’s blazer is kind of orange. It looked like Tennessee’s program was entering disaster mode when Tyler Smith was pulled over and arrested after a completely innocent New Year’s joy-ride that involved weed alcohol, and illegal hand-guns. The incident resulted in Smith’s dismissal from the team, the suspension of three other key players who were in the car, and screamed of program instability and anarchy. Days later though, the undermanned team rallied to beat No. 1 Kansas (I will forever believe that the Vols win due in part to our Cornell team nearly pulling off the upset in the Phog days earlier and revealing the formula to beating the Jayhawks – besides the point), and turned what could have been a train-wreck of a season into an Elite 8 run.
And now word of the NCAA probe gets out. Bruce Pearl has done an unbelievable job turning what used to be a football/women’s basketball school (how many of those exist) into one with a men’s basketball program as well. The spirited and unique spark he has brought to Knoxville should be commended. But the NCAA inquiry doesn’t come at a good time for an athletic program that is dealing with enough with the football investigation Lane Kiffin dumped on them before bolting for USC (ironically a much nastier NCAA hot spot). It obviously is impossible to surmise whether his players’ recklessness last winter and the program’s potential recruiting violations are related, but it may be time for Pearl to reign in his program for the time being before it gets in even more hot water.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.