THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Golden moment: NCAA must shuck Pearl
People who watched the 1996 boxing documentary When We were Kings, were surely struck by the elegance and elocution of actor Malick Bowens, perhaps best known for his role as Farah in Out of Africa. They may also remember how he described Muhammad Ali's 1974 fight against George Foreman: "Muhammad Ali, he was like a sleeping elephant. You can do whatever you want around a sleeping elephant; whatever you want. But when he wakes up, he tramples everything."
Ali's heyday is over, but today we have a new sleeping elephant: it's the NCAA and it's Led Zeppelin time (get it?).
The NCAA has been in a light slumber only for the past decade or so, but in the last couple of months high-profile violations have been coming quick and fast like a bucket of ice water. The National Collegiate Athletic Association is wide awake, and if they stay that way, they just might be able to wrangle a few of their toughest bulls to the ground.
While the fate of Reggie Bush's Heisman trophy lies with the Heisman committee, the NCAA has trampled the former USC running back's reputation. When UVA prepared to take the field at Southern California last Saturday (if only our kicker could kick!), the replica of Bush's #5 jersey wasn't hanging in the Coliseum with Matt Leinart's and Marcus Allen's– and yes, O.J. Simpson's.
When the NCAA was meting out sanctions to USC for treating Bush as a professional athlete, not only did they ban the school from the postseason for two years, strip it of its 2004 National Championship, and take away more than 20 scholarships, they also required the school to remove all images and references to Reggie Bush.
A wise and cowardly Pete Carroll jumped ship before getting his 40 lashes, so we'll never know what the NCAA had in store for him. But if they have any pent-up frustration over letting Carroll slip through their fingers, Bruce Pearl would be wise to tender his resignation immediately.
Last Friday, the Tennessee Volunteers head basketball coach admitted publicly that he gave misleading and incorrect information to the NCAA about possible violations during an investigation into the school's basketball program. A tearful and emotional Pearl said, "I learned that it's not OK to tell the truth most of the time, but you've got to tell the truth all of the time."
Considering Pearl admitted his "mistakes" 24 hours after receiving a letter notifying him of another NCAA investigation into Tennessee's athletic program, Pearl's "all of the time" really means "when I'm going to be found out anyway."
With the Pearl debacle, the NCAA has a chance to make a real difference in college sports. They may have put the scare into some football programs by pistol-whipping USC, but that's Division I football, the highly visible jewel in the NCAA crown. If the NCAA comes down hard on basketball, a sport largely allowed to police itself, it would be an indication the Association means business, which would be a welcome change.
No matter if it's an athlete, a coach or a fan, it's easy to forget that the NCAA is not an isolated organization imposing arbitrary rules, but rather an organization composed of representatives from the very academic institutions it governs. When USC and Pete Carroll or Tennessee and Bruce Pearl violate NCAA rules, they betray themselves and their peers and any sense of equity and integrity they have worked together to ensure.
Whether the NCAA will use these high-profile cases to do more than momentarily flex a muscle remains to be seen. It would be very easy for the NCAA to think they deserve a little catnap after USC and Reggie Bush, but they would be missing a golden opportunity. If the NCAA can stay awake long enough to get a handle on Tennessee and Bruce Pearl, they might get a tighter grip on the rest of their member schools in the bargain.
Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she writes movies and raises dogs and children.