Friday’s press conference, where Tennessee announced SEC Commissioner Mike Slive had suspended men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl, came as a surprise to some.

It was a surprise even to members of the media who arrived at Thompson-Boling Arena expecting Pearl to address the upcoming trip to New York City for the semifinals of the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-off.

Instead, the suspension of Pearl for the first eight conference games of the Vols becomes the headline in a week UT hoped it could shift the attention from Pearl’s off-the-court problems to the team’s performance in one of the iconic sporting venues in the country: Madison Square Garden.

Not a TV timeout will go by without ESPN hammering home the fact that Pearl will miss half of the conference season and is still under investigation by the NCAA.

 Still, if UT fans think this suspension is harsh, they should wait until the NCAA concludes its investigation of the Vols’ hoops program. The NCAA turns a blind eye to a lot of things, but one thing it doesn’t blink from is being lied to.

Pearl did this, and the basketball program will suffer because of it.

Pearl still has the majority of support from fans, and more importantly, the people in power at UT, at least for now. This was evident once again on Friday when Chancellor Jimmy Cheek publically acknowledged that Pearl would coach at UT for “many, many years.”

Standing by Pearl is the only real move UT has at this point. The school won’t get rid of Pearl unless it absolutely has to.

By not firing Pearl upon his admittance to lying to the NCAA, regardless of whether it should have or not, Tennessee put the future of the basketball program solely on Pearl, despite the national backlash it received.

And why not?

Pearl took a Tennessee program from the bottom of the SEC and lifted it into national prominence. Pearl inherited a program that was a sleeping giant — a hungry, passionate fanbase, a top-notch arena and the resources to compete with any other team in the country.

If UT was going to get rid of Pearl, it would’ve done so in the summer, when these allegations came to light. But it was the school’s decision to stick with Pearl and suffer the consequences for his violations and subsequent lying to NCAA investigators.

Tennessee fans can no longer make fun of Kentucky coach John Calipari for his vacated Final Fours. They can also no longer scold Alabama for being cheaters, because like Calipari and the Crimson Tide, Pearl went past the gray area outlined by NCAA rules.

Still, did Alabama fans care about the Albert Means scandal last January when the Crimson Tide were capping off a perfect season by winning a national championship? Did the Big Blue Nation care about test scores of Calipari’s players at Memphis when they were the top team in the country for much of last year?

Of course not.

The NCAA could take scholarships away and/or give the Vols a postseason tournament ban for a couple of years. If either or both of those occur, UT will almost have to see a decline from where it is now as a basketball program.

The question then becomes can Pearl overcome adversity once again. It took Pearl 20 years to overcome adversity in the coaching community to become a head coach at a prominent school like UT in 2005.

Pearl turned a Tennessee basketball program around seemingly overnight and must find a way to keep the Vols at or near the top of the SEC while enduring the university, SEC and, ultimately, NCAA sanctions.

The only reason Pearl is still at UT now is because of his success on the court. If that success begins to falter amid troubles off the court, it could still cost him and athletic director Mike Hamilton their jobs.

— Matt Dixon is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at mdixon3@utk.edu.