- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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The world of the NCAA is a strange place. In the NCAA's world, small, silly things can be much bigger and much more serious than in any other possible context. For example, a photo of a recruit at a coach's house can be seismic, the conspiratorial equivalent to the Nixon tapes. It can get a successful coach not only fired but show-caused. It can throw the program he built into a bit of a rebuilding phase. It can reorient his career path from basketball to marketing.
That's what happened to Bruce Pearl, whose crime was less about having then-prospect Aaron Craft at his house for a barbecue then lying about it to NCAA enforcement staff, which is the biggest single no-no in the NCAA's long and rich-mahogany-scented no-no tomes. It was serious stuff, not only earning Pearl what amounts to a three-year ban on his ability to coach college basketball, but uprooting him from a program he had built into a consistent winner while also squandering the long and arduous climb Pearl made after a decade spent in coaching purgatory. Honestly, it was kind of sad.
Outside of the context of the NCAA, though, all of this stuff can seem kind of funny? A barbecue? A sneaky photograph? What is this, "Columbo?" When someone who is primarily an NBA fan hears about all of this, they scoff incredulously. Serious though it may be in one context, to many the NCAA just seems funny.
Which is why I found Pearl's son, Steven Pearl's, radio ad below for a local Knoxville barbecue joint to be so utterly hilarious. It includes such excellence as "If there’s one thing we Pearls know, it’s how to throw a barbecue" and "Just remember, my two rules for legendary backyard barbecues … 1) Get your food from Calhoun’s and 2) Absolutely no photography" before closing with a gem of a legal disclaimer: "Offer not available to Aaron Craft." Amazing.
At this point, apparently the Pearl family can not only joke about the fateful barbecue, but can do so to their own financial gain. It's a sign of the mostly forgiving attitude most UT fans still have toward the Pearls that Steven Pearl could have a local radio show in the first place, let alone get paid to reference what was at the time a really baffling and traumatic series of events for Vols fans. And it totally works! Impressive, right?
Of course, the elder Pearl has never been shy about making jokes at his own expense. In 2011, as he waited for the NCAA hammer to fall, he participated in a United Way event that cast him in the role of celebrity gas-pumper. As he said at the time: "In coaching, you always need to have a profession you need to fall back on if you don't win enough games, so I'm just here practicing."
The world of the NCAA is a strange place. In the NCAA's world, small, silly things can be much bigger and much more serious than in any other possible context.