Summitt and Pearl

i-99a02011806aee788024fd82f9e80058-ncw_a_summit_195.jpgTennessee beat Florida by ten last night, handing the Gators their third loss in the last four games. Much as I dislike Florida, and enjoy seeing them lose, I wouldn’t ordinarily comment on this. Hell, I wouldn’t’ve watched this, ordinarily– it was an SEC game, and Vitale was calling it. I subjected myself to the first eight minutes or so, though, because of Pat Summitt and Bruce Pearl.

If you’re not a sports fan, the story here is that about a month ago, Tennessee men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl went to a women’s game with his shirt off and his chest painted, like a student fan. Last night, at the home finale for the men’s team, women’s coach Pat Summitt reciprocated, coming out onto the court at the first tv time-out dressed as a cheerleader (it was more tasteful than you’re thinking– see picture at right).

As Kate noted when I explained the PTI reference to it, this sounds a little creepy, unless you know something about the people involved.

At most schools, Pearl’s stunt would’ve been a sort of charitable act to raise the profile of the women’s basketball team. Tennessee isn’t most schools, though– their women’s basketball team is one of the most dominant programs in the history of college sports, and Pat Summitt is an absolute legend in the coaching business. The men’s basketball team is fairly insignificant– to put it into perspective, the court that the men’s team plays on is named after Summitt, not any of the guys who have coached the men’s team.

So, the power relationship here is exactly the reverse of the usual, and Pearl going shirtless to a women’s game is actually an attempt to raise the profile of the men’s team. And Summitt’s act last night is actually a pretty big deal– she’s on the same level of celebrity in Knoxville as football coach Phil Fulmer and former Vols QB Peyton Manning, both of whom were in the crowd as well.

So, weirdly, the whole thing didn’t feel as tawdry as it might’ve elsewhere. I’m very impressed with both coaches– Summitt more so than Pearl, because he comes across as a natural showman in interviews, while the cheerleader thing isn’t really in character for her.

The fact that they beat Florida is just a nice bonus.


  1. #1 Markk
    February 28, 2007

    Having seen Pearl close up at many games when he was at UW-Milwaukee, natural showman is a great way to characterize him. He is like the guy at the fair selling mops, if you get close enough, he sucks you in. He was a great salesman of basketball, in a good sense – he tried to get the student community excited and use basketball as a way to raise school pride – very important at a commuter school like UWM. He always seemed to be having fun – even in intense games. The fact that he likes fast pressing basketball helped also, as that is sure fun to watch.

    It looks that that is going over well at Tennessee also, which is interesting as you say football and Women’s basketball always were dominant there.

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