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Thursday afternoon Cardinal news and notes

The Brookses (and Louie) are ready to get this football season going.

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—The Athletic engaged in a conference realignment draft strictly for men’s basketball, and Eamonn Brennan wound up with a league featuring Louisville, Kentucky, Cincinnati and DePaul. That, my friends, is what we refer to as the dream.

—Six Louisville football players — Malik Cunningham, Trevor Reid, Caleb Chandler, Kenderick Duncan, Qwynnterrio Cole and Nick Okeke — have been named to the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl Top 250 watch list.

—Once you start watching this video, you can’t stop.

—The Pac-12 has announced its forfeiture policy for the 2021 football season, saying basically that if a team isn’t able to play this season for Covid-related reasons, it will forfeit. Most conferences are expected to follow suit with similar policies in the coming days/weeks.

—Former Card Colin Holba gets some WLKY love for his recently released book. Holba was recently named Hunter Cantwell’s staff at Christian Academy for this season.

—This is just wonderful.

—Running backs coach De’Rail Sims and running back Jalen Mitchell met with the media after practice on Wednesday. Here’s a transcript of what they had to say.

—U of L QB coach Pete Thomas once again cracks 247 Sports’ “30 under 30” list.

—Jeff Greer’s latest newsletter describes 2021-22 as the “iron sharpens iron year” for Chris Mack’s team.

Louisville has 13 scholarship players without Faulkner. What makes 14 pop even more is that at least 13 of them — if Faulkner matriculates — have real arguments for playing this coming season.1 No coach, not even Leonard Hamilton, who seemingly trots out 20 7-footers for every game, plays 13 guys in their rotation. Most coaches hardly play 10.

Which all leads me to this: Welcome to the Iron Sharpens Iron Year or The Only the Strongest Survive Year. Both titles are still in my writer’s workshop as of Wednesday night, but deadlines are deadlines at TFST HQ. Either way, what’s clear is this: After a season undone by a lack of depth, shooting and versatility, Chris Mack decided to build a roster with those attributes in spades to avoid another unhappy campaign. Eight, nine or 10 of those 14 scholarship players (again, if Faulkner signs) will play regular minutes; a handful of them probably won’t. Players may well transfer because of that, a reality of today’s college basketball (that I have no problem with). Nevertheless, end-of-season departures are a much more tolerable risk than playing with another stretched-thin roster.

No one can blame Mack for thinking in these terms: More options are at his disposal, easing concerns about potential injuries or COVID-19 quarantines or bad stretches of play. Every position has at least two, if not three or four, solid options, most of whom can shoot a relatively reliable percentage or bring value in another way. That helps immensely, because this season, for a variety of reasons we’ve discussed in previous newsletters and podcasts, cannot be another slog like the last. Worst-case scenario: Something unfortunate happens to a rotation player or two and the guy next in line steps up. Best-case scenario: The expected stars stand out, the rotation solidifies, and the guys who didn’t play regular minutes evaluate their situations after the season.

—Bill Connelly’s final preseason S&P projections (Insider link) for the 2021 college football season have Louisville at No. 42.

—Bryan Brown has been “ecstatic” with the play of his secondary so far in fall camp.

—Cards are back.

—The schedule for the 2021-22 U of L cross country season is out.

—The fall season has started for U of L men’s soccer.

—The NCAA didn’t punish Art Briles or Baylor football for being lax in reporting an extreme number of sexual assault cases because they said Baylor University was so bad at reporting sexual assault that it wasn’t strictly an issue with the athletic program. That’s beyond toothless for an entity whose presence continues to appear more and more meaningless.

“Baylor admitted to moral and ethical failings in its handling of sexual and interpersonal violence on campus but argued those failings, however egregious, did not constitute violations of NCAA legislation,” the report stated. “Ultimately, and with tremendous reluctance, this panel agrees.”

It is for this reason, among a host of others, that the NCAA’s governance structure needs a major overhaul, something it seems headed toward after announcing a constitutional committee this week. The organization has proven time and again that it is ill-equipped to handle something as serious as gender violence or simply enforce its own rules and dole out punishment in a consistent, logical manner. It’s embarrassing that this organization, which has long punished athletes for technicalities that have little to do with the game’s integrity, can do nothing to Briles for his inaction.

The NCAA has instead spent inordinate time defending its crumbling façade of amateurism. It doesn’t even exert reasonable control over its most lucrative sport, FBS football, as witnessed by the realignment moves of the last decade-plus, culminating in Texas and Oklahoma’s recently accepted invitation to the SEC to form the first 16-team superconference. The College Football Playoff, as well as its predecessors like the Bowl Championship Series and Bowl Alliance, were never under NCAA control. As my colleague Nicole Auerbach eloquently put it, “If the NCAA wants to simply administer non-football championships and call it a day, then just do that. We might be headed in that direction anyway … but this organization has long claimed to be about a lot more than that.”

The long-winded nature of its Baylor investigation and the end result is another sign of its failings. The NCAA’s conclusion came more than five years after Briles’ firing in May 2016 and nearly three years after it served Baylor with a notice of allegations. The decision was delivered nearly eight months after the final hearings. The Bears have had two full-time head coaches (Matt Rhule, Aranda) and one acting head coach (Jim Grobe) since the investigation began.

And for survivors of the sexual and interpersonal violence that occurred during that time, it’s another painful reminder of their traumatic experiences, when Baylor prioritized football success and upholding the school’s image at the expense of student well-being.

Put the banner back up.

—According to the new U.S. census data, Louisville is the 29th-largest city in America.

—Legal Sports Betting has Louisville all the way up at No. 4 in its preseason ACC football power rankings.

—Video team still killing it.

—The U.S. men’s soccer team is in the top 10 of the latest FIFA rankings for the first time in 15 years.

—The five freshmen defensive linemen on Louisville’s football roster all have the potential to be scary good.

—Jack Bicknell believes this can be the best offensive line he’s ever coached.

—Eric Crawford breaks down what we do and do not know about this ongoing Dino Gaudio-Chris Mack drama.

In fact, when I put together an initial list of what we don’t know, it is considerable.

1). We don’t know how the recording wound up with the FBI. We know Mack made a recording of Gaudio, but I really have trouble believing that Mack ever wanted that audio to find its way to law enforcement. There was nothing good that could come of it, for him or his program.

2). We don’t know what was said in that conversation. I suspect we will get the contents of that audio tape, before this is all over. Gaudio’s memorandum on Tuesday made reference to conversations, but we can’t assume we know the entire context.

3). We don’t know the circumstances of graduates being used, perhaps improperly, in practices. The NCAA relaxed some of its rules in that regard during COVID, and in fact there are some circumstances in which graduate players may be used. They can’t take part in scrimmages or actively practice, but they can run drills. When it comes to NCAA allegations, these seemingly small distinctions loom large.

4). We know Mack’s explanation for his staff shake-up. On May 17, Mack told reporters this:

“It’s never easy. That was the first time that I let anybody go in the 12 years that I was a head coach,” Mack said. “So this isn’t anything that is taken lightly. They’re two excellent coaches, Dino and Luke. Excellent. The honest assessment: Our program wasn’t where I wanted it to be at the end of this past season. We could write down all the reasons why I think, or why you think, we didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The bottom line is we didn’t. That’s not to say that Dino and Luke were the fall guys and it’s all on them.”

—Corey Ray still loves hitting in Louisville.

—Cardinal freshman Ashton Gillotte has been fine with the preseason hype surrounding him, but now he’s just ready to play.

—Marshon Ford is now a Dan-O’s Seasoning ambassador.

—Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch stole the show for the Bucks in their Wednesday Summer League game.

—And finally, Mark Ivey believes that for the first time since Scott Satterfield arrived in Louisville, defensive line will be a strength instead of a weakness for the Cardinals.