Wiedmer: Bruce Pearl, USC should sue NCAA for favoritism

Wiedmer: Bruce Pearl, USC should sue NCAA for favoritism

October 23rd, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

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It's time for former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl and the University of Southern California to join forces. Not on the court necessarily, since USC's Trojans just hired a remarkable young basketball mind in former Florida Gulf Coast miracle worker Andy Enfield.

No, Pearl and USC need to get together in court, where they should sue the NCAA for everything it has after college athletics' governing body kind of, sort of slapped Miami on the wrist for a list of wrongs that could have/should have earned the U the death penalty.

If the big boys of college athletics don't start their own organization over this, they'll deserve whatever they get from this point forward. Nine lost football scholarships over three years? Three lost basketball scholarships over three years? Double-secret probation for three years?

Why not shut down the soft-serve ice cream machine at the training table one night a week, too? And no new tattoos in months that end in "H"?

With a lot of help from since-imprisoned Ponzi-scheme super booster Nevin Shapiro, the Hurricanes did everything but make Jimmy Hoffa disappear. Money for players and recruits. Gifts. Parties at strip clubs. Shapiro didn't just make it rain -- he pretty much single-handedly orchestrated a hurricane of shame.

And when it all came crashing down on the little weasel, he blackmailed current Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith (then the U's head coach) and an assistant, ordering them to pay him $10,000 for his silence about gosh knows what.

Want to know what happened next? Haith and his assistant did as asked, arranging the payment, then later initially misleading the NCAA about it.

We repeat: They paid Shapiro $10,000 in hush money, then sort of/kind of lied about it to the NCAA.

Or using the NCAA's own words: "[The committee came to] a factual conclusion that the former head men's basketball coach and former assistant men's basketball coach worked together to ensure that the booster received a large cash payment and that this payment would end the booster's threats."

Haith's penalty for this: He's suspended five games -- not five important games, mind you, but five games that you or I or the Chick-fil-A cow could coach and win against such perennial powerhouses as Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb and IUPUI.

Which brings us to Pearl. For lying to the NCAA about the unpardonable sin of hosting a high school junior recruit at a barbecue at his own home, Pearl got a three-year show-cause penalty that won't allow him to coach until next season.

This isn't to defend Pearl. He lied to the NCAA. Worse still -- far worse, some would say -- he asked the parents of the recruit in question to lie for him. Almost any teacher or coach at the high school level in this country would probably have been fired under the same circumstances.

Still, there's no evidence that Pearl ever paid a recruit or player a single dime. And before the NCAA ruling came down, UT and the SEC had suspended the coach for half of the Vols' 16 SEC games. Not cupcakes, mind you. League games.

If Pearl doesn't have grounds for a lawsuit in there somewhere, no one ever will.

But as big an injustice as Pearl's penalty seems to be compared to Haith's, it's Trojans Nation that should march from L.A. to Indianapolis, surround NCAA headquarters and refuse to leave until an apology is delivered regarding the sanctions delivered USC over the Reggie Bush saga as opposed to those of Miami.

Especially since the bum chairing the infractions committee regarding USC was none other than the late Paul Dee, who was the Miami AD for not one but two major scandals involving the Hurricanes' athletic department.

A bit of background: Dee was in charge of the U in the mid-1990s when a Pell Grant scheme regarding the athletic department came to light that was so bad one government official labeled it "the largest centralized fraud" in the Pell program's history. Later, as chairman of the infractions committee, Dee infamously said of the USC penalty that cost the L.A. school two bowl games and 30 football scholarships over money that would-be agents -- not USC coaches or boosters, but agents -- paid Bush and his parents: "High-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance."

Of course, when the Shapiro scandal came to light, Dee said of the U's role involving not one athlete (as was the case with Bush) but more than 70: "We did all the things we thought were appropriate. But when you get a booster who has decided to do something inappropriate, you have less control, because they are out in the environment and we're not there."

On that statement alone, the only appropriate thing for the NCAA to do was to apologize to USC years ago and lessen its penalties in the same way it recently lessened Penn State's sanctions. Instead, it brazenly denied the school's appeal.

But after Tuesday, it really should just apologize to everyone everywhere for being the most clueless, inept, hypocritical organization imaginable. Then someone, anyone, everyone should demand that the NCAA as we know it deserves the death penalty. The sooner the better.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.