Auburn University was in a double spotlight Sunday, only the NCAA hopes most of the public’s attention stays focused on the positive rather than the negative one. The Tigers completed a brilliant four-day run by blowing out the Tennessee Volunteers 84-64, winning their first SEC Tournament title since 1985. The win gave their current coach Bruce Pearl a victory over the team that previously hired him, then dumped him in 201, after it was proven he lied to NCAA investigators about a cookout he hosted for recruits.
Pearl was very gracious in his post game comments, and thanked SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey for allowing him back into the league under a show cause clause. That rule meant any school hiring him had to demonstrate both Pearl and his new school were in compliance with all NCAA regulations. Pearl even said “I hope the SEC’s better with me in it,” and there’s no question he’s revived the sport at a school where things had fallen into total disarray competitively.
However two days earlier, Auburn was in another spotlight, one far from favorable. Former Pearl assistant coach Chuck Person, the school’s all-time top scorer who led them to their only previous SEC Tournament title and a number eight NCAA seed in 1985, pleaded guilty to accepting more than $90,000 in bribes to steer Auburn players to a financial advisor after they turned pro.
Ira Bowman, the person who replaced Person on Pearl’s staff, was placed on administrative leave before the SEC Tournament began. He’s accused of being involved in a $300,000 bribery scheme while coaching at Penn. So one former and one current Pearl staffer is embroiled in NCAA trouble, even as he’s brought Auburn back into basketball prominence.
Now it is certainly valid to question why some, if not all of this stuff, qualifies as a crime. Why shouldn’t players who are making millions for schools get more than an athletic scholarship, especially when coaches and schools are raking in big television dollars? Why is the FBI using tactics normally reserved for terrorists and mobsters on player agents and coaches? Should thousands of federal tax dollars be going towards wiretaps to ensnare player agents and coaches instead of people committing murder, extortion, rape, and a host of other interstate and/or global misdeeds far more harmful than doling out a slice of the big money schools and coaches are getting to families living below the poverty line?
One doesn’t have to sanction the acts committed by Person and others to see and be disgusted at the hypocrisy and huge amount of farce involved here. But until or unless they change the laws, these people are committing crimes. They should be viewed as petty misdemeanors rather than felonies, but they are crimes.
However it’s interesting that with the exception of Rick Pitino, bounced from Louisville and LSU’s Will Wade, suspended when he popped up on a wiretap discussing a prospective deal for a recruit, thus far it’s been mostly lower assistants who’ve taken the big hits.
Meanwhile the NCAA and networks hope fans keep their eyes on the games, focus on the brackets, and overlook the corruption and moral decay at the root of big time college sports. There’s been way more publicity given lately to the Hollywood types and corporate CEOs embroiled in the companion NCAA admissions controversy, and the athletic folks hope it stays that way, at least through the first week of April.