Bewilderment [noun; bih-wil-der-muhnt: a state of being confused and puzzled]
In the state of Kentucky, and specifically throughout the great city of Louisville, the month of March is essentially viewed as a holiday in itself. All of you taking the time to read this piece, basketball aficionados or not, know this to be true. And mid to late March is something that we as Louisville Basketball fans start thinking about almost minutes after each NCAA Tournament concludes. It's a way of life for many of us. It's madness. In fact, I couldn't imagine what my sports life would be like without it.
Well hello there, Mr. Unimaginable. I had a feeling I would meet you one day, just not so soon. Up until yesterday, the current week for UofL fans had been one to remember for all the right reasons.....
Cards beat #2 ranked North Carolina on Monday √
Kentucky is upset by Tennessee on Tuesday √
Cards land solid NSD football class on Wednesday √
Lady Cards win their 15th straight game on Thursday √
And then came Friday............X
On Friday afternoon, via an announcement from UofL president James Ramsey (not to be confused with 93.9 The Ville's John Ramsey, which I have seen happen no less than 500 times over the past 24 hours); the hammer was simultaneously dropped on the Louisville basketball team and the fan base. And the hammer not only hit home, it did significant and immediate damage: no post season play for this UofL squad........none......zero...... zilch.......not one single game. You like brackets? Have a blast filling one out without Louisville being an option. You enjoy predicting what seed the Cards might land in the Big Dance? Find something else to ponder. You get a kick out of guessing what geographical location the committee will place the Cards in? Fugetaboutit!
I know that emotions are at an all-time high right now for Louisville fans. In the spirit of trying to be rational, I'll attempt to hit on just a few key points (I acknowledge there are MANY). In doing so, I selfishly hope to alleviate some of my own frustrations while at the same time generating some discussion from those that are invested the most, the fans.
● The timing of this post season ban decision is suspect, and frankly just sucks
I still remember when this whole ordeal began. It didn't take long for many of us as fans to realize that this saga involving strippers, recruits and money was serious and potentially carried some stiff ramifications. As a fan and an alumnus, I admittedly went through a phase of denial that even included the notion of an IU conspiracy. As time passed and more information became available it become more and more apparent that UofL was indeed on the hook and Andre McGee had sh*t the bed. But not one time up until yesterday did I ever consider or think about the possibility that Louisville would self-impose a post season ban THIS season. I'm not implying that self-imposed sanctions and punishments aren't warranted in this situation, but to do it LESS THAN ONE MONTH before March is, in my opinion, both unfair and unjust. Regardless, the decision has now been made and now we all get to admire and smell the spilled milk while we sit in bewilderment.
● The players deserve better, and so does the fan base
Can you imagine being Damion Lee or Trey Lewis at this moment? Both players came to the University of Louisville for the opportunity to showcase their skills and more importantly have the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. Now, those dreams and aspirations are gone forever. They, like their teammates, are now relegated to playing just nine more games before this season is concluded. My heart breaks for all the players, but especially Lee & Lewis. Both have been Godsends for the Louisville program. They have provided leadership on an off the court. In addition, they have represented themselves and their university with the utmost class. They attended the ACC Media day and answered the toughest of questions for a program they had yet to even suit up for. And last evening, they sat together, again, and answered even tougher questions about their fates as college athletes. I don't know if President James Ramsey made his decision in haste to save his own skin or if he really has Louisville's best interest at top of mind. In any event, Lee and Lewis DESERVE BETTER than the cards they've been dealt. The whole team does for that matter.
As for the fans, myself included, I think we deserve better. The basketball program is something that is glorified and revered by Louisville fans. Loyalty and support has never been an issue. It never will be. The fan base is forgiving and patient and has remained steadfast through not one, but several on and off the court cataclysms over the past handful of years that with most fan bases, would have resulted in a communal upheaval. But that obviously hasn't happened, and tomorrow will once again be an example of how and why Louisville basketball fans are arguably the best in all of college basketball as they will unquestionably fill the KFC Yum! Center and show their unconditional support for two 5th year graduate transfers and their teammates. It will be the first Louisville game I ever take my 7 year old son to. I think he deserved to watch the team that had something to play for. Luckily and unbeknownst to him, however, he'll still get to witness a great group of kids who will still play their hearts out like they did this past Monday.
● This may not be the last chapter of a book none of us want to continue reading
One thing to note from yesterday's events is that the self-imposed post season ban announcement was done so by the university alone and had nothing to do with the NCAA. In fact, it has been reported that the NCAA is STILL 3 to 4 months away from concluding their investigation in full. So that leads me to a question I am confident others have that probably could have placed into bullet point number one: does President Ramsey and the powers that may be think that just because they self-imposed punishment that the NCAA will see that and say, "Well, being that you took care of things in house and destroyed the hopes and dreams of two of the most studious student athletes that have ever worn your school's jersey, we think we're good to go here"?
In so many words the NCAA might conclude as such and no stiffer penalties are handed down. BUT playing the devil's advocate, there is no guarantee that the NCAA won't pile on and consider additional penalties to include more post season bans, or God forbid, the death penalty. You see the problem is that we in the public STILL don't have all the facts. Hell, evidently even Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich don't have all the investigative findings to date. So again, it would seem to me that self-policing yourself in this matter and proactively banning post season play is just the wrong decision. I don't know if someone is trying to save their job or legacy, and frankly I couldn't give two farts in the wind. Am I alone in that I just want the truth while at the same time justice for those that are innocent and had nothing to do with this whole mess?
The days ahead will be trying for Louisville fans and this roller coaster ride will continue without many of us knowing when the ride may ultimately end. Hopefully the highs will outnumber the lows. In the interim, all we are left to do now is accept the mess, clean it up, and look ahead to brighter days. A convincing win over Boston College today won't change the negative climate but it could sure be a good start toward some form of positive healing. Stay strong Card Nation, we'll get through this together. Keep things in perspective and cast your support over the rest of UofL's terrific athletic programs that also deserve our support while at the same time staying loyal to a group of kids who need it the most right now.