More often than not, in the sports world, it's a word that is bantered about on talk radio and television programs as a popular topic of discussion. But the truth is that a lot of times it's simply a fabrication of the media. Something that is created to fill up time on the airwaves and give the talking heads a controversial subject to argue about.
The reason that distraction doesn't play anywhere near as big of a roll in sports as we'd like to think, is that most athletes view the playing field as a place of solidarity. Their lives may indeed be affected by whatever the issue is, but on that field their sole focus is on winning the game.
Unfortunately for the University of Tennessee men's basketball program and their fans, the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte offered no solidarity, and the Vols were indeed distracted in their "second" round game against the University of Michigan on Friday afternoon.
The source of distraction you might ask?
Tuesday, after several months of supporting Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl, athletic director Mike Hamilton publicly admitted in a radio interview that Bruce's status was uncertain going into 2011-12.
The timing was undoubtedly ill-advised regardless of the truth of Hamilton's answer, and Hamilton later apologized for that reason. But the damage was done. And it seems hard to deny that the turbulence between the athletic department and the basketball staff was the direct source of a team that clearly unraveled in the second half on Friday.
Any time a team is outscored 42-16 in the second half, it's easy to assume that they were simply outclassed and possibly fatigued, and there is no doubt that this team is capable of going into long dry-spells regardless of their mental state.
But, the Vols were uncharacteristically slaughtered on the boards as well as in the turnover margin (two statistics largely predicated on hustle), and it's difficult to legitimately consider fatigue a factor for a team many national pundits consider to be one of the deepest in the nation.
Yet, the Vols dealt with serious lack of production outside of Tobias Harris, who scored 19 points. They failed to get more than 6 points from any other player on their roster, including the Vols leading scorer Scotty Hopson. Hopson put up a season low four points on one of five shooting from the field and turned the ball over three times.
Michigan, on the other hand, got double-digits from five players on Friday, and more importantly assisted on 20 of their 33 made field goals while turning the ball over a mere 10 times.
Now I'm not saying that the Vols come out and dominate the Wolverines had these peculiarly timed comments been avoided, because Michigan played an outstandingly efficient basketball game and the Vols are certainly capable of flopping at any time.
However, I don't think anyone can say that this, nor any eight/nine matchup in the NCAA tournament, would possibly be that uncompetitive without some sort of outside influence.
Now a season that began in turmoil and experienced extreme highs, as well as extreme lows, will end exactly as it began. In turmoil.
However, while the games may have stopped, the season appears far from over.
The Vols will "evaluate" Bruce Pearl's status, and could potentially have another coaching search on their hands. Oh yeah, let's not forget that the Vols have an upcoming hearing with NCAA brass, too.
So stay tuned to KnoxVegasVols.com for more as the drama unfolds.