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Tressel, Pearl unlikely to gain Bozeman-like redemption


Todd Bozeman's biggest advantage at the time was that he was young and dumb.

That was 15 years ago, when Cal's hot, stylish basketball coach resigned in shame. An upward-trending career was trashed when Bozeman admitted to paying $30,000 to the family of recruit Jelani Gardner. The NCAA had little sympathy, socking Bozeman with an eight-year show-cause penalty.

Technically, it meant he couldn't coach at an NCAA school for the next eight years. Essentially, it meant he would never coach again at that level. Realistically, though, it gave him a shot. At age 32, time is all he had to rebuild his career. The then-youngest coach to ever reach a Sweet 16 (at age 29) was stupid enough to cheat but young enough to learn from it.

Back in the game, Todd Bozeman has twice coached Morgan State into the NCAA tournament. (Getty Images)  
Back in the game, Todd Bozeman has twice coached Morgan State into the NCAA tournament. (Getty Images)  
There is no such hope for Bruce Pearl and Jim Tressel. Two veteran, accomplished coaches, both in their 50s, don't have the luxury of time. Pearl was fired by Tennessee in March. Tressel resigned under pressure on Memorial Day at Ohio State. The NCAA cannot be amused. Both coaches violated the NCAA's unethical conduct bylaw. Both admitted to lying, covering up and misleading. Both, it can be stated with some certainty, are prime candidates for show-cause orders.

That's why Bozeman is a go-to source as the Summer of Infractions kicks off this weekend with Tennessee, along with Boise State, in Indianapolis to have their cases heard by the NCAA infractions committee. Pearl will be there, along with former Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin, to perhaps see his career flash before his eyes.

Tressel is expected to be part of Ohio State's hearing on Aug. 12. Penalties are routinely expected six to eight weeks after those hearings. Considering their ages, their violations and the length of a possible show-cause, Tressel and Pearl might never again hold a job at a BCS-conference school.

"It's like anything else, we have traffic lights and traffic signals," Bozeman said this week. "If you violate them you pay the price for it. I've never commented on anybody else's case, only on mine.

"It was something I did in the early part of my career. It was wrong and I paid the price for it. The good thing is, this is a country of second chances. You can move on."

There are parallels for Pearl and Tressel to consider. Back then, Bozeman didn't really know how badly he ripped apart his family and life until the verdict came down.

"I felt bad about the fact I was affecting a lot of people," he said. "As I told [the NCAA], 'I want to take the responsibility for my actions. I'm going to take the full brunt of the sanction.' It adjusted my assistant coaches' lives, my AD, the players, recruits, everybody. All the way down to my own family, my dad and my mom."

The show-cause penalty remains one of the harshest the NCAA can apply. It means that any school hiring a coach stuck with the label would have to "show cause and reason" why it shouldn't be penalized. It makes the penalized coach a pariah. Kelvin Sampson, a two-time loser at Oklahoma and Indiana in the NCAA's eyes, is under a show-cause order until November 2013.

In a sport of rogues and opportunists, these days Bozeman, now 47, almost comes off as a sage. He resurfaced in 2006 with Morgan State, taking the Bears to the NCAA tournament for the first time two years later.

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There is nothing, he said, like sitting in front of that infractions committee with your career on the line. Bozeman chuckled when he was told that media participating in a recent NCAA mock infractions committee hearing were told that 80 percent of coaches cry.

"It's possible to get emotional in there," he said. "I can imagine it would overwhelm some people. ... I don't know if you want to liken it to court. I don't want to put it in that same light for the negative reasons or any other reasons.

"[But] that's kind of what, I guess, you're facing."

For more than a decade, Bozeman had time to contemplate his actions. He coached nine-and-under basketball. He was a pharmaceutical rep, taught at a basketball camp in Africa and became an NBA scout.

The hardest part was losing his father Ira to lung cancer on Jan. 1, 2006. A couple of months later he got the Morgan State job.

"That's the one thing that still haunts me to this day," he said. "My dad didn't live long enough to see me get back in. I wanted to come back into college basketball and get it right and repair my reputation and my name and his name.

"He lived to see me get through the sanctions. He kept saying, 'You're going to get another chance, you're going to get another chance. I believe it.' When I get emotional, it's basically because of that."

Any sympathy, then, for those two coaches when they face their own NCAA firing squads?

"I tell my own children that. I tell my players that," Bozeman said. "There are consequences for your actions."

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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