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Ten thoughts on the NCAA’s hammering of Louisville basketball

The worst case scenario arrived for Louisville basketball fans on Thursday.

Duke v Louisville Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The events of this afternoon have provided at least some clarity to the events of this morning. Most notable is this: If Louisville does not win its appeal, all of its wins and accomplishments from 2010-2014, including the 2013 national championship, are going to be wiped from the record books.

So, yeah, basically that worst case scenario that we’ve all been discussing for the past year and a half has arrived.

The good news, for those of you more inclined to view things that way, is that Louisville’s on-the-court future is relatively unaffected by today’s rulings. Yes, Rick Pitino is going to be sidelined for most of January, and yes, there are a few more scholarship hits coming, but for the most part, Cardinal basketball is free to chase national titles without any unanticipated hurdles for the foreseeable future. With recruiting going the way it is and with the team U of L has coming back for 2017-18, that’s a very good thing.

Here are 10 thoughts on the news of the day:

1. Louisville’s primary defense in all of this seems to have been that the monetary value of all these impermissible benefits totaled only somewhere in the vicinity of $2,000. Compare that with the case of, say, Syracuse, where the issue at hand involved just one player receiving around $10,000 worth of impermissible benefits.

It almost seems as though this defense offended the NCAA.

The NCAA’s decision is littered with wording that conveys the infractions committee’s belief that the “repugnant” nature of the acts committed makes it pointless to compare this case it to previous cases. Reading through the decision, it’s not difficult to see their point. The stories of confused 16 and 17-year-old kids who trusted an adult to take care of them away from home and were instead handed condoms and led to rooms with naked women make your stomach churn.

Even with that being the case, the NCAA is churning through uncharted waters here. As Jay Bilas said on the radio earlier today, “I haven’t read the NCAA’s bylaws of ‘repugnant.’” There is no precedent for dealing with these types of impermissible benefits, only precedent for impermissible benefits that can be ascribed a specific monetary value.

Given that, it’s understandable why Louisville would choose the defense route it did. The issue here is that sex was involved, and sex, regardless of what the issue at-hand is, changes everything. The members of the NCAA handling this case quite obviously saw the acts as highly immoral, and therefore viewed the U of L defense as especially tone deaf. Still, the NCAA giving itself free reign to get away from its own bylaws and hand down punishment based on its own collective moral compass in special instances seems like a dangerous precedent.

My guess is that even with a new group of people handling the appeal, Louisville steers itself farther away from the “it wasn’t that much money so we don’t deserve that much punishment” defense and more in the direction of “yes, this was awful but not awful enough to warrant THAT much of a hammer being dropped.” I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

2. It’s been said by others today, and it in no way excuses the behavior by some at U of L, but if the NCAA did this to Louisville for consensual sex acts, Baylor had better not have a football program at all in three years.

3. Before any of this was an even a twinkle in any of our most disgusting crevices, I was firmly on the “vacating is the stupidest penalty ever, those games still happened, yes, even the Calipari ones” bandwagon. Judging from the reaction to today’s news, it would seem most national sportswriters feel the same way.

Louisville’s 2013 NCAA tournament games happened. We saw them. We heard or felt the Georgia Dome explode on Montrezl Harrell’s go-ahead dunk, and we’ve seen the “One Shining Moment” montage more than any of us would care to admit. Removing U of L’s name from a few record books and forcing the workers at the KFC Yum Center to haul down a piece of cloth won’t change any of that.

Still, the 2012-13 Louisville Cardinals becoming the first college basketball team in history to vacate a national championship would be a big deal for all of us because everyone who follows sports would make it impossible for it to be anything else. Being the first to be cast in such a dubious light would be a stain and an annoyance that would be impossible to shake.

Aside from the emotions and feelings of those directly involved with winning the title who had nothing to do with any wrongdoing here (an aspect of all this that’s being too casually swept aside by everyone), that stain and that annoyance are why the banner matters. It wouldn’t take away the memories and I don’t think it would have a major impact on the future, but there’s no question that it would still hurt.

4. Cooperating with the NCAA gets you shit. We may have suspected it for a long time, but we found it out firsthand today.

U of L contacted the NCAA on the first day that IBJ Publishing reached out to it with a request for interviews.

Louisville (outside of one-year staffer Brandon Williams) cooperated with the NCAA from that point forward. It got them zero leniency.

Contrast that with North Carolina, which has consistently spat in the face of the organization despite being handed olive branch after olive branch and almost certainly won’t face any sort of negative punishment for almost two decades of systemic academic fraud.

The NCAA is essentially that wannabe hard-ass adult grade school coach who demands obedience but secretly loves and gives presence to the kids with the worst attitudes. No one thinks you’re cool. No one will ever think you’re cool.

5. Chuck Smrt ...

6. U of L did everything short of officially declare war against the NCAA in its press conference this afternoon. While it might be too late for them to successfully traverse “the North Carolina route,” I think it’s safe to say that the days of the two entities acting in anything resembling a peaceful concert are long gone.

Louisville is appealing, and is likely to be extremely aggressive in its appeal. If the NCAA rejects that appeal — which is always the most likely result at the appeals stage — then I think it’s more likely than not that U of L takes its case to actual court. I would not be shocked at all to see more than two years of ceaseless investigating, interviewing and reporting get summed up with this exchange:

“Take down that banner.”


It would be fitting.

7. Tom Jurich was right to point out again today the hypocrisy of the NCAA’s “red flag” argument.

They alleged in their initial notice of allegations that the charge against Rick Pitino of failure to monitor Andre McGee was warranted because of his inability to pick up on what should have been obvious “red flags” that any head coach would see. When pressed, they offered no specifics about what those red flags might be. They did the same thing in today’s report, and during this afternoon’s teleconference.

On the very first day this whole thing went down, I said this: “OK, let’s assume every word of this book is true. If the NCAA goes to Rick Pitino and says, ‘you have to guarantee with 100 percent certainty that from this point on, nothing like this can ever happen again.’ What does he do? What can any head coach in the country do to ensure with 100 percent certainty that something like this doesn’t happen.”

Outside of spending every minute of every second spent off the court walking in and out of each player’s dorm room, it’s impossible. This is where I understand the frustration of Pitino and any other head coach who is penalized for something nefarious that happens below them.

8. If the banner does go down, I hope U of L puts up something extremely snarky in its place. I would like to make myself available as a consultant for that situation should it arise.

9. If it has to vacate all the wins from those four seasons, U of L is also going to be forced to give back the money it earned from the NCAA for those titles and tournament victories. I know the monetary value isn’t being valued by the NCAA here, but the exchange of $2,000 could wind up costing Louisville basketball millions.

10. Here’s the most frustrating thing about all of this: Those women and the acts of Andre McGee did nothing to help Louisville win a national championship in 2013. They did nothing to help bring big time recruits to U of L from 2010-14, and if anything, they cost the Cardinals a couple of players who had been Louisville leans before their visits.

The impermissible benefits being discussed here did not help Louisville from 2010-2014, and yet they’re still about to cost the Cardinals all the victories and trophies they earned over that time period. That’s an especially difficult pill to swallow for everyone involved. Here’s hoping something happens in the next few months that keeps this from becoming a reality.

Also, beat Texas A&M.