As Bruce Pearl walked off the court on the eve of the release of the NCAA's notice of allegations against Tennessee, he high-fived Vols fans sitting courtside and blew kisses toward the orange-clad throng that had gathered in one corner of the arena.
The standing ovation Pearl received from the Tennessee fans is symbolic of the support he's received from the school's administration the past few months.
Once university officials docked Pearl's pay instead of firing him when his mistakes first became public last summer, Tennessee made it clear that the NCAA was going to have to force its hand before it would consider cutting Pearl loose. Nothing in Wednesday's notice of allegations will alter that stance because there weren't any accusations there that either Tennessee or the public hadn't known about months ago.
The most serious charge against Pearl stems from him violating NCAA rules by hosting recruit Aaron Craft at his home for a cookout in 2008.
When NCAA investigators confronted Pearl with a photo of Craft from the event, Pearl initially said he didn't know where the photo was taken. According to the notice of allegations, Pearl later called Craft's father in an apparent attempt to influence his statements to NCAA investigators.
In addition to those charges, Pearl and his staff also allegedly made a total of 96 impermissible phone calls to recruits over a 24-month period and met in person with recruits when it was not allowed. Tennessee has until May 21 to respond to the NCAA allegations and school officials will participate in a hearing in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions on June 10 and 11.
"The support of our fans and administration has been amazing and appreciated by me and my entire family and reminds me every day why I have the best job in the nation," Pearl said in a statement. "I appreciate the opportunity to serve the University of Tennessee and everyone in our basketball program is focused on finding ways to improve every day."
The ultimate determination of Pearl's fate won't come until at least August because that's the soonest the NCAA can hand down its punishment.
Those who view the lenient punishment Jim Calhoun received Tuesday as a sign that Pearl too will get off easy might want to reevaluate their stance. The Connecticut coach whose crimes are most similar to Pearl's was assistant Beau Archibald, who received a two-year show-cause penalty for providing false and misleading information to NCAA investigators.
It might take a penalty similar to that for Tennessee to consider other coaching options besides Pearl.
Pearl has presided over the most successful period in Tennessee basketball history, so the school is going to remain loyal to him unless the NCAA provides no other option but to cut him loose.
- Bruce Pearl