College Basketball Nation: Maine Red Claws

On Saturday, we brought you the strange case of Google Chrome software version NCAA bylaw 20.9.8.1, which reads as follows:

"An institution may schedule and play not more than four basketball games, including any contest (e.g., scrimmage, exhibition), in an academic year against institutions that are not members of Division I."

Simple, right? Straightforward. A rule that doesn’t come up much, if at all, because really: How hard is it?

Kind of hard, as it turns out. This summer, the NCAA welcomed four new schools into transitioning Division I status, and each got its own fancy conference membership to boot. Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word joined the Southland, Grand Canyon joined the WAC, and UMass-Lowell became a member of the America East. Here’s the catch: Because those schools are transitioning to full Division I status, and are not actually full Division I members until that long and cautious process is completed, they actually counted toward opponents’ schedules as non-Division I schools.

The problem? A handful of schools in those teams' respective conferences -- Oral Roberts and Stephen F. Austin in the Southland, and Maine and Vermont in the America East -- didn’t remove their usual diet of non-Div. I opponents from their nonconference schedules. That had ORU, Stephen F. Austin and Maine stuck figuring out whether they would have to forfeit upcoming games. And it left Vermont, which had already played UMass-Lowell, its fifth non-Div. I opponent, once (with another conference matchup to go) fretting that it had violated an NCAA rule.

Good news, everyone: The NCAA nipped it in the bud.

“Today, the NCAA’s Subcommittee for Legislative Relief formally approved a waiver that we submitted on the membership’s behalf absolving all Division I basketball programs, including Maine’s and Vermont’s men’s teams, from penalty for having more than four non-Division I opponents on their schedules,” America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said in a statement Thursday. “We very much appreciate the NCAA staff’s efforts to expedite a review of this case and are extremely pleased with the decision, which we believe is fair and appropriate given the circumstances.”

It’s hard to get too laudatory about a timely, common-sense decision, but the NCAA Subcommittee of Legislative Relief hasn’t always had a reputation for the former or the latter. In this case, they did, and the four schools affected won’t have to worry about the impact forfeits and NCAA violations might have on their seasons or the perceptions therein. So it was that the strange case of NCAA bylaw 20.9.8.1 came to its end. And everyone lived happily ever after.
Back in May, as it became clear that Bruce Pearl's next job wouldn't be at an NCAA program -- Pearl may or may not receive a show-cause penalty from the NCAA Committee on Infractions; either way, no athletic director will be taking that chance anytime soon -- Yahoo! Sports reported that an NBA Developmental League franchise, the Maine Red Claws, was making a push to hire Pearl as its next head coach.

That unlikely connection never materialized. Pearl is reportedly interested in one of two things: a spot on an NBA bench or a spot in a television chair. But according to a report from ESPN's Marc Stein, that hasn't stopped another D-League franchise from giving Pearl another hard sell. From Marc:
The Texas Legends are making a hard push to hire former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl to replace Nancy Lieberman as coach of the D-League franchise, according to NBA coaching sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that Pearl will be in Dallas on Wednesday for a formal sitdown with Legends officials after ongoing negotiations between the parties.

Said one source: "The job is [Pearl's] if he wants it."

The idea of a formal sit down makes this slightly more serious than the dalliance with the Red Claws; things in Maine never seemed to progress to this point. And it is an interesting prospect. Pearl may prefer to land a job on TV -- he almost certainly does -- but would a TV network have reservations about his credibility in the wake of a massive NCAA scandal? What about an NBA assistant's position? Pearl seems to prefer that route, too, and you'd assume he has a few connections in the league that could land him a Kelvin Sampson-esque career parachute in the next few years.

But if those options are exhausted, or if NBA franchises would prefer Pearl spend a year in the D-League before jumping to the pros, the Texas Legends might be the best option after all. It's a quality D-League outfit. It plays in the same market as the Dallas Mavericks, whom you may have heard of on occasion this summer. And, hey, it's a gig. A gig's a gig, right?

However you try to sell it, though, it remains remarkable that Pearl finds himself in this position at all. A year ago, he was the most successful coach in the history of Tennessee men's hoops. He coached in a sparkling arena in front of thousands of fans. He recruited some of the best players in the country. He occasionally took photographs like this. Now he's meeting with D-League officials for a "formal sit down," and I'm here seriously debating the merits of the move. What a year, huh?

Update: Pearl spoke with ESPN's Andy Katz on Tuesday, and he confirmed he will interview Thursday in Dallas.

"When the world champions call you have to listen," Pearl said. "Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have been great and I'm looking forward to talking to them."

Pearl said he was told that the D-league would still be held even with the lockout.

"Right now college is not an option for me," Pearl said as he awaits his NCAA fate. "I've always enjoyed working with players and coaching them during their development."
When Bruce Pearl and Tennessee receive their punishment from the NCAA Committee on Infractions this summer -- the hearing is in June, and the ruling is likely to come months after -- chances are Pearl won't be able to coach college basketball for some time. Historical precedent says Pearl is likely to receive a show-cause penalty for lying to NCAA investigators last year. By next fall, Pearl may find his career options rapidly diminished.

What will he do then? Take a few years off? Test his analytical skills on TV? Go the way of Kelvin Sampson and secure a strong position as an NBA assistant? Hey, what about the D-League?

Wait, what? The NBA Developmental League? Really?

It might not be as farfetched as it sounds. Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the D-League's Maine Red Claws are "courting" Pearl for their head-coaching job. The Maine Red Claws, if you didn't know, are one of the D-League's most successful business operations; they've sold out 48 consecutive games, which might be the Joe DiMaggio hit streak of D-League attendance figures. They're also located in Portland, Maine, nestled all the way up in the far reaches of the northeast. And, you know, this is the D-League. It comes with none of the glamour or power of big-time college hoops and none of the prestige associated with an NBA position.

Would Pearl, a native New Englander, consider the offer? Maybe. But it seems far more likely the coach would hold out for a TV gig or a better coaching pitch from an NBA staff.

Either way, chances are Pearl will be back on some sideline eventually. How soon? Where? In Maine? I'm going to go with "I don't know," "I don't know," and "I strongly doubt it." But, hey, you never know.

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