For UT Fans The Real Culprit is Slive as a Fox

Tennessee fans are pissed. Not just a little pissed, not “oh we just got blown out in the NCAA tourney” pissed.  That type of anger gathers quickly, burns bright, but soon dissipates.  You see it on display with the Pitt fan base on the heels of a gut-wrenching loss characterized by some questionable coaching decisions. They’ll yell, they’ll scream, they’ll post on message boards and in 4 days they’ll be excited about spring practice.  It happens. No, what’s going on in Knoxville is far different.  This has been a slow burn, a steady fire that has remained stoked all season by the constant chatter about the transgressions and eventual fate of their coach Bruce Pearl.  From the moment of Pearl’s tearful press conference announcing the rule-breaking, the crime and subsequent punishment have dominated the narrative of UT’s basketball, a constant shadow looming over every game and every press conference.  And UT fans have not been happy about it.  Talk to any member of the Vol nation and they won’t wait long to heap scorn upon the national media that can’t wait to bring up the  problems and penalties.  They profess anger at an outside world that they feel can’t resist the chance to kick a man and program when it’s down.  They’ve got a chip the size of Thompson-Bowling on their shoulder. But now they’ve found a target. Athletic director Mike Hamilton gave an inexplicable Tuesday interview to WIVK Sports Director Jimmy Hyams and in one fell swoop took all that anger, all that animosity, all that resentment that had been festering for an entire basketball season and turned it squarely upon himself. It served to provide the latest, greatest and ultimately final distraction in a UT season characterized by them. Just as basketball had seemed to take center stage for the Vols at this time of the year when only winning matters and hope springs eternal, the spotlight was yanked back to the embattled coach. The Vols did not respond well. A team that remained competitive in just about every game this season was blown off the floor in embarrassing fashion. Pearl suffered his worst loss in an NCAA game – hell in ANY game during his 6 years – and it didn’t take fans long to draw the short line from a blowhard AD to a team that, in the words of freshman starter Tobias Harris, “quit.” After a season screaming at the sky and cursing their poor fortune, that big orange bolt of lightning finally had somewhere to strike. The reaction has been fast and furious. There was the formation of, an informal poll to guage the opinion of Vol fans (by the way, they support Pearl to the tune of 91% – 9%) and some pretty nasty Twitter messages that can be found simply by searching @utadmike, Hamilton’s account. Among them one Hamilton himself retweeted around noon on Saturday:
@utadmike, kill yourself you should fire yourself you piece of sh*t
(A pair of quick notes. First, Hamilton has since deleted the RT – shocking I know. Second I purposefully omitted the sender’s address. A quick search through his history revealed him to be a scumbag that I didn’t want to give more attention than necessary.) Most damaging and telling were the comments of Tobias Harris’ father, Torrel Harris. To sum up, Mr. Harris said “Mike Hamilton blew them away.” The senior Harris then went on to say the return of his son for his sophomore season was completely dependant on the return of Pearl. You can’t point the finger much more directly than that. But are they angry at the right guy? Is all this really Hamilton’s fault? He sure didn’t break any rules. In fact, up until this week he stood staunchly by his guy, repeatedly saying Bruce Pearl was the coach at Tennessee and he wanted to keep it that way. At worst he’s guilty of poor, poor judgment in the timing of his comments. But if lying to an investagative body isn’t a fireable offense, is lapse of common sense? A much more worthy target of UT scorn can be found further south in Birmingham. Head into the offices of the SEC and don’t stop until you get to the big one in the corner. Commissioner Mike Slive is as responsible as anyone and more than most for the protracted agony of the Vol faithful and constant picking of the sore that has prevented anything resembling healing to begin. It was the unprecedented 8 game suspension levied by him personally that took what was an (unfortunately) all-to-common rule breaking incident and vaulted it to the top of the basketball subject line. Contrast the experience in Knoxville with that in Storrs, where a prolonged investigation recently found Connecticut Husky Coach Jim Calhoun guilty of improper contacts with recruits and the NCAA placed the Connecticut program on 2 years of probation,  docking a scholarship in each of those seasons. The investigation began following a Yahoo! report in March of 2009 and continued through not just 1 but nearly 2 full seasons. People knew something was afoot, but without relevant news or developing events, the story fell off the public’s radar and out of the national consciousness until final findings and punishments were levied. Even then the story was somewhat pedestrian, making an initial splash before the ripples faded to nothing. Nobody asks Kemba Walker what he thinks of the situation. It didn’t dominate coverage of the Huskies during their 5 day Big East Tournament run. It was a story, it was reported, the process played out, the punishment was levied and life went on. This is the normal course of events. This is the rythem of NCAA transgressions. Yahoo! report, investigation, waiting, more waiting, everyone forgets and finally the NCAA releases findings and then penalties. Rinse, lather, repeat. But not so with the Vols. As opposed to a footnote, their violations became the header, a constant presence at the top of every UT basketball discussion. This was wholly the fault of Slive, who in the immediate aftermath of the Cam Newton situation and serious questions as to the credibility and integrity of his league, completely overcompensated and hit Pearl with an unprecedented 8 game SEC ban – half of the Vols conference season. Coming when the penalty did – smack dab in the middle of the season, it was inescapable. All talk in the run-up centered around how UT would survive, the talk during around how they were surviving, and the talk afterwards about what was next. The suspension was only for 8 games, but clearly cost the Vols much, much more. This was all on Slive. Neither Big East Commish John Marinatto nor Big Ten Commish Jim Delaney showed any desire to take on punishment responsibility as their member institutions, UConn and THE Ohio State University respectively, have dealt with NCAA transgressions. They’ve left that power with the schools (Ohio State coach Jim Tressel will serve a self-imposed 5 game suspension) or the NCAA. In OSU’s case, they will suffer through a prolonged period of pain, but at least the university has been the master of their own fate, levying punishment themselves. Slive gave UT no such opportunity. Whether the result of a quick trigger or some misguided attempt to pre-empt NCAA penalties, Slive’s decision cost UT an entire season of basketball and created a public relations nightmare that will take years to recover from. Without the penalty the issue would have existed, but with no immediate tangible effect on the on-court results. A dark cloud but far from a constant downpour. What the suspension did was keep the heat on a pot that has finally boiled over. Unfortunately it’s Mike Hamilton who’s getting burned, an unwitting victim of a recipie for disaster that was wholly the creation of Mike Slive.

2 Responses to “For UT Fans The Real Culprit is Slive as a Fox”

  1. Hamilton is a moron, but I agree that Slive didn’t help things. He’s looked pretty foolish this past year. Pearl is known to work in the fringes, but he’s as good a coach as Tennessee has had. When he’s fired, UT will fade away.

  2. I didn’t realize until reading an article recently that Slive was on the other side of the case when Pearl blew the whistle on another assistant. Seems like it could have played a role.

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