It was past time for some adult supervision at the University of Tennessee.
Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, President Joe DiPietro, and the trustees of the state’s flagship university needed to restore its reputation. UT has a partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and is becoming a first-class research facility with a national reputation. But that reputation has been besmirched by lying, cheating coaches and an Athletics Department that has refused to take control.
The future of UT athletics is not in the hands of vocal fans, message boards, radio talk shows, or rich and anonymous boosters. The athletic facilities belong to UT and the taxpayers, regardless of whose name is on the building. It is the job of the trustees and the administration to correct a problem and to restore institutional integrity.
But firing Bruce Pearl was not enough.
Athletics Director Mike Hamilton allowed Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, and David Reaves to run wild and only the mass coaching exodus to Southern California prevented UT’s football program from being sanctioned severely. Either Hamilton is a fool or he chose to ignore wholesale recruiting violations. Pearl has contributed mightily to the school’s resurrection of its basketball program and for that he deserves our thanks. But his troubles had reached the point that he was more of a liability than an asset.
The continued commentary during the NCAA tournament and in the national press about Pearl lying to the NCAA was not going to stop. The appeals, the possible sanctions, possible suspensions would have continued the controversy for at least two more years. It should also be remembered that the Bruce Pearl who returned to the team after his SEC suspension was not the same Bruce Pearl of the past five years of basketball success. The heroic cheerleader, marketing genius, high-energy basketball coach was a shell of his former self. Even a marketing genius can’t sell a tainted product.
It is tragic, but necessary, that everyone involved in NCAA violations—in football, basketball, and in the Athletics Department administration—has to be removed from the university. It is extreme surgery, but the department has been infected from top to bottom.
Making these decisions is hard, but it’s in the job description of those given the charge of leading the university. Being a trustee is about more than sitting in a skybox. Being an administrator also requires being in charge of all facets of the university—including the Athletics Department.
The university administration has been a bit like parents who go out of town and leave the house to teenagers who have thrown a wild, drunken party. It was time to come home, clean up, and dole out the punishment. The current administration did not have responsibility when these violations occurred. But they do have the responsibility to clean it up.
The firing of Pearl will cause a great deal of criticism; Pearl has been a folk hero. If you support higher education, you might let the administration know you appreciate them doing what needed to be done, despite the screaming from sports fans.
But the actions so far are not enough. The NCAA needs to see that the man in charge of the football and basketball program violations has also been removed from the university.
UT needs to tell the NCAA that everyone involved is no longer employed, and ask them to immediately impose whatever punishment they deem necessary. If the Kiffin example is any indication, the sanctions will follow Pearl and Hamilton rather than fall on the university in the future.
But if Hamilton continues to be employed, it is likely the NCAA will take it as a sign that the university is not serious about cleaning up its program.
How can UT athletics reach its nadir and the man in charge still have a job?