Bruce Pearl is out as the head basketball coach at Tennessee, a decision made by the university after it was revealed that Pearl had previously lied to NCAA compliance investigators about his communication with recruits. Jim Tressel, head football coach at Ohio State, is currently in a very similar situation, as he has recently admitted to withholding information from the OSU compliance department that would have led to the suspension of several key players for the start of the 2010 college football season. Interestingly, while Tennessee has found Pearl’s actions to be worthy of terminating his contract, Tressel has instead been lauded with hearty praise from both his university president (Gordon Gee) and Athletic Director (Gene Smith).
These stories are puzzling to the sport science world, including sports psychology leaders, sports sociology experts, and various sports leadership personnel – not to mention fans.Why has Pearl been dropped by Tennessee while Tressel has been maintained by Ohio State? While their charges are not exactly the same, they are considered by experts to be similar enough to make reasonable comparisons about their respective punishments (by the NCAA and their individual schools). Both coaches have now admitted to their actions – yet one man is now unemployed, while the other is still overwhelmingly backed by his superiors.
All this leads to the “million-dollar” (pun intended) question: How can one coach be fired, while another coach commits a similarly serious offense and is maintained by his university? Reasonable minds would assume that either both coaches should have maintained their coaching positions, or both would have been relieved of their jobs.Admittedly, I don’t fully understand the discrepancies that exist when it comes to coach misconduct and the severity of penalties that follow. So, in my best scientific attempt to try and make sense of this puzzling question, I offer the following theoretical algorithm to assess the likelihood a coach will be maintained in the aftermath of admitting to NCAA violations:
Things that help a coach keep his job (add one point for each of the following):
- Winning – Conference and national championships go a long way, as do victories against your arch-rival (see OSU-Michigan results for the last 10 years).
- Revenue – College teams that win usually help with ticket sales, as well as profits in apparel sales, too. Coaches who make the university money stand a much better chance of being retained in the midst of NCAA violations.
- Public appearances – Coaches who take time to speak at luncheons, visit hospitals, and do other types of charitable work often cultivate big fan bases – leading to more people who will attend games and spend money.
- Distinguished look and strong communication skills – Coaches with clean cut images who speak well in interviews are generally liked by the public — which again leads to a greater fan base, and more revenue for the school.
- Emphasis on “life skills” and academic success – Even though everyone knows that coaches get paid to win games (not graduate students, unfortunately), fans still like to hear buzz words like “life skills development” and “improved graduation rates.” While I have never witnessed a coach get a pay raise for helping with personal growth development and academic success, fans do like to think that the players they root for are “good guys” who will later go on to properly represent their university once their playing days have ended.
Things that work against a coach keeping his job (subtract 2 points for each of the following):
- Losing – A pretty obvious factor when it comes to coaches keeping their jobs. While a winning coach might weather an NCAA compliance storm, a coach who has been losing of late (or playing below expectations) will almost always serve as the sacrificial lamb (enter Bruce Pearl). Losing programs lose fans, and when fans stop attending games and buying team gear the college loses money.
- Blatantly breaking NCAA rules* – Actually, this is a “maybe,” depending on whether your school is on the NCAA black-list, or if it appears as though your school responsibly stepped up to the allegations once they became public. Currently, Ohio State is receiving a lot of heat pertaining to this, as most fans feel as though OSU’s initial self-penalty hardly fit the crime.
- Personal misconduct* – Again, this is another “maybe” when you think about it. While it would seem pretty obvious that coaches who break the law, get arrested, or act out in irresponsible ways would be fired immediately upon receiving additional NCAA compliance charges — if the coach is a winner he or she may still survive an NCAA scandal. Remember, winning = money.
So thats my rough math — its now up to you to decide the consequences each coach should have faced.