As the 2008 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament swings into high gear this weekend, University of Illinois fans find themselves in an unfamiliar and rather unpleasant situation.
For the past eight years, those of us without real lives have quite enjoyed taking that Thursday or Friday off work to sit at home or in the company of friends (only those that own HDTV’s) and watch our beloved Fighting Illini in their first round match up.
This year, much to my chagrin anyway, that is obviously not going to be the case. While Illinois made a valiant run to the finals of the Big Ten tournament, the Illini were rudely and thoroughly reminded of just how inferior they really were this season by a solid – albeit incredibly boring – Wisconsin group led by the perennial Big Ten coach of the year, Count Dracula.
So it would appear that Illinois fans have nothing to root for this time around. On the bright side though, there is plenty to root against. Sometimes, that can be just as fun (if not more).
Enter Bruce Pearl, the slimy, scumbag of a coach for the Tennessee Volunteers. Back in 1989, Pearl decided that a mini tape recorder, scissors, and Scotch tape would prove invaluable as recruiting tools in an effort to land Chicago Simeon star and McDonald’s All-American, Deon Thomas.
Thomas ended up signing with Illinois, but not before Pearl was able to make a way cool “mixed tape”, to use some terminology from that bygone era. I believe at least part of the conversation went something like this…
Pearl: Did Jimmy Collins offer you a brand new Chevy Blazer to play at Illinois?
Pearl: But he didn’t not offer you a Chevy Blazer, did he?
Pearl: If not offering you a Chevy Blazer wasn’t not part of your conversation, just say ‘yes’.
Thomas: What the hell are you talking about?
Pearl: Have you ever heard Lou Henson say the words ‘Chevy’ or ‘Blazer’?
Thomas: I don’t know. Maybe.
Pearl: Thanks. We’ll be in touch.
The conversations on that tape, along with couple of Trixter songs, somehow found their way to the NCAA. It was these conversations that started the ball rolling on a big-time investigation into Lou Henson’s operation, which was conveniently enough coming off a Final Four appearance and unprecedented success in recruiting its own state, namely the Chicago Public League.
However, if you happen to disagree with any of the above and still consider Bruce Pearl part of your species, perhaps you’d like to read a ridiculously rosy and erroneous report on what took place many moons ago. I would suggest this god awful piece of wanton claptrap brought to you by the good folks at ESPN.com and apparently written by Pearl’s mother under the pen name of Pat Forde.
One of the few things that Mrs. Pearl writes in her article that is actually true, is that the NCAA never could substantiate any of Pearl’s accusations with regard to Deon Thomas, which again was the whole reason the NCAA started looking into Illinois in the first place. Illinois wasn’t “found guilty of major violations”, as the Mother of Satan claims. That’s a complete lie. Instead, the program was found guilty of the bizarre and now infamous “lack of institutional control.”
Basically, the whole thing was a fiasco that never actually resulted in anything being proven, just a lot of circumstantial BS. But Illinois fought the accusations hard, and the NCAA – because they had wasted a lot of time and money investigating – had to punish the school to save face.
All in all, Illinois was probably guilty of the same things Bob Knight, Dr. Tom Davis, and any other Big Ten coach was guilty of when dealing with the corrupt coaches in the Chicago Public League. The difference was that Illinois was finally getting it’s pick of players from its own state, and that was unacceptable to the other coaches in the Big Ten.
The question I always asked was: If Illinois had to cheat to recruit the star players from its very own state, what were these other coaches doing? No doubt it was something that would make Kelvin Sampson blush.
Anyone with half a brain knows that an Illinois program that comes anywhere close to controlling its own borders (i.e. Chicago) is an Illinois program that is a perennial Big Ten champion and Final Four contender, as we’ve seen through much of this decade.
At least until Bruce Weber is started proving another old adage. You know, the one that goes, “Nice guys finish last.”
Mrs. Pearl’s article almost makes you feel sorry for her poor, dear son. Those big, mean Illinois fans made him lose his job and get blackballed from big time Division I basketball. My God, he even had to ride a charter bus instead of a private plane! Boo hoo!
The question I would ask is: Pearl worked for Iowa at the time. Why would it matter if Illinois fans hated him so much? How could they make him lose his job and his “rising star” status, if what he did was so ethical and respectful?
Don’t blame Illinois fans, Bruce. We didn’t make you lose your job. What you did was so sleazy and underhanded that nobody wanted to associate with you anymore because frankly, how could they trust you? That’s not our fault. Just be glad you became such good friends with Dracula.
Besides, nobody ever felt sorry for me. After all, I was the one that had to spend my college days watching The Richard Keene and Shelley Clark Show. Which I must admit was a hell of a lot more fun to watch than The Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt Comedy Hour.
An impartial observer of the Bruce Pearl situation might argue that after almost 20 years, Illinois fans would be wise to let bygones be bygones.
I say the time for Fighting Illini fans to forgive Bruce Pearl is…
If not for the sheer amount of loathing and hatred I feel for that piece of human garbage, why, I’d have nothing to root for in this tournament.
Except for maybe whatever team is playing Kansas and “Bail” Self.