Senior Writer

NCAA can't lie down against lying coaches


They are now bundled together like your cable and internet bills. Pearl and Tressel. Bruce and Jim, the Penn and Teller of amateur athletics, just a different kind of deception.

From now until the NCAA gets around to their cases, they are bound together -- in the minds of a skeptical public and by their common consciences. The right-and-wrong reflex is a weak link, admittedly, for these two but a good place to start in bringing the Hazmat unit in for cleanup. The NCAA must consider Pearl and Tressel as a single entity, twin sons of different cover ups. Their verdicts will be statements on the future of college athletics, not just resolutions of scandals.

One is an admitted liar, the other willfully and intentionally withheld evidence of NCAA violations. Redact the names and institutions, then read the accounts as if they occurred in real life. Quickly ask yourself -- are either of these guys still employed? The answer is no. But both have a firewall erected between reality and their jobs.

Both make money for their universities. Both have winning percentages above the norm. Until the risk (NCAA punishment) outweighs the reward (cheating), we're all wasting our breath. Very quickly, these two coaches have become poster children for their own posters. Really, can you remember two sitting BCS-level head coaches at football factories in admitted violation of NCAA bylaw 10.1 -- unethical conduct? Just to be clear, one prominent attorney who represents accused parties in NCAA investigations called 10.1 the association's equivalent of "capital murder."

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Every big-time administrator and coach across the country is paying attention to what happens next. For now, reward is boat-racing risk when it comes to bending the rules. For now, the message is: lie and get a wrist slap. Hide and have your AD open a news conference by saying, "Wherever we end up, Jim Tressel is our football coach."

That was Ohio State's Gene Smith Tuesday night sounding eerily similar to his Tennessee counterpart six months ago.

"I'm glad," Mike Hamilton said the day Pearl's transgressions were revealed, "he's our basketball coach."

More proof that if you want to begin the cleanup, it has to start at Tennessee and Ohio State. The schools themselves have had their chance and failed miserably. Tennessee docked Pearl some salary. It was the SEC that actually had the guts to sit him out. There was a certain arrogance to Ohio State's announcement, confirmed while we wait for something close to an apology from Tressel.

The message has to come from NCAA president Mark Emmert, through the infractions committee to the membership: This will not be tolerated, ever again. Coaches cannot lie and cheat and still remain standing. The NCAA still has to stand for something.

We will learn what kind of stones that infractions committee has when it comes to evaluating Penn and Teller's -- er, Pearl's and Tressel's -- wrongdoing. Both coaches must be suspended for a season. That gets the message across to schools and coaches. Everywhere.

The NCAA says loudly and frequently that each infractions case is different. They can't be. Not this time. This is a special moment in NCAA history. These cases could define Emmert's presidency that is barely five months old. There is already the perception college athletics are out of control, that the ruling class (hint: Tennessee and Ohio State are members) get enforcement breaks. In the SEC and NASCAR, they tend to say, "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'." We seem to be trending, everywhere, toward, "If you ain't lyin', you ain't tryin'".

Compare that mentality to these cases where schools/the NCAA brought the hammer: Alabama was forced to vacate 21 wins after players sold some textbooks. Textbooks! Mike Price never made it to spring practice in Tuscaloosa. George O'Leary lasted five days at Notre Dame.

More recently, Michigan State's Tom Izzo got a one-game suspension for merely hiring the associate of a potential recruit at a camp last summer.

Tressel got two for a massive cover up. Seems like we've quickly lowered our standards.

Former USC assistant Todd McNair is appealing to the NCAA, which ruled he knew about Reggie Bush's improper benefits. The NCAA applied the same unethical conduct standard against McNair that Pearl and Tressel have violated. The association essentially has made McNair unable to be hired in his profession. The one-year show cause order was based on the testimony of a convicted felon, Lloyd Lake. No one has forgotten former Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant lost almost an entire season after lying to NCAA investigators about a meeting with Deion Sanders.

We could waste our time paging through Tressel's (now laughable) book, The Winner's Manual: For The Game Of Life, or we could concentrate on what Emmert told our Gary Parrish in December. The NCAA chief was asked if lying coaches should be subject to the same penalties as lying players.

"I certainly believe [the same guidelines] should apply, of course," Emmert said. "[They should apply] at least as much [as they apply to student-athletes]."

The saving grace is that the NCAA still has yet to weigh in at Ohio State and Tennessee. The cases will be decided at different times, but that shouldn't keep the association from making a common finding: Both of them, gone, suspended, one season. Let the bundling begin. It's the only way the cleanup can begin.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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