After a series of high profile misses, cases where the NCAA gummed at schools like Miami and UNC, the body was eager to show that its Committee on Infractions still had some teeth, that it would take on — and sanction — the big boys.
Fortunately, Ur-scumbag Rick Pitino and the rogues gallery at Louisville gave the COI a much-needed punching bag. The NCAA didn’t miss its chance to punch down either.
“In the Committee on Infractions’ decision, the panel found that a former Louisville director of basketball operations acted unethically when he committed serious violations by arranging striptease dances and sex acts for prospects, student-athletes and others, and did not cooperate with the investigation. The violations in the case resulted in some men’s basketball student-athletes competing while ineligible.”
Soliciting prostitutes for recruiting purposes. Paying for sex. Lying to investigators. If there was a case where the NCAA could sanction a school and feel good about it, it was the Cardinals. And the COI leaped at the opportunity to make a statement:
The NCAA announced on Tuesday that the University of Louisville must vacate all of its wins from the 2011-2012 through 2014-2015 seasons, upholding its earlier decision that the men’s basketball team fielded ineligible athletes during those seasons.
The Cardinals will become the first NCAA Division I men’s basketball program to vacate a national title during the Final Four era, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The 123 wins includes the Cardinals’ 2013 national championship and 2012 Final Four appearance.
Today, the NCAA denied Louisville’s appeal, an appeal where the Cardinals contest the underlying facts and call the penalties “draconian.”
Were the sanctions draconian? Maybe. But, Louisville’s athletic department is a hive of scum and villainy. Tom Jurich? Bobby Petrino? Jeff Walz? That’s not a departmental directory, it’s a list of suspects. (Seriously, even the Cardinals women’s basketball coach is a jerk.) And for thirty years one Cardinal has stood above them all — Rick Pitino.
But, do you know what comes with a three-decade reputation of being sentient scuzz? Notoriety.
When you’re winning, it’s fun to be the villain. Titles obscure a lot of sins. Huggie Bear thrives on it. Cal doesn’t give a damn what you think. Bob Knight pouted and bullied his way to the hall of fame. Yet, when you slip up (or, more likely, get caught), there are precious few second chances available and precious little sympathy. You’re an easy mark.
Being a brash and loud instigator instead of an “aww, shucks” good guy is just one factor that helps separate the punishment handed down to a serial cheater like Rick Pitino versus the kid gloves that serial cheaters Dean Smith, John Wooden, and Roy Williams received (or, more likely, don’t receive).
More importantly, the NCAA needed this case. It needed to make a statement against one of the game’s living legends and against one of its premiere programs. The NCAA had a chance to do so against North Carolina and passed, weakly conjuring up justifications as to why it would not move against a team that had just won the national championship. But, with Kansas in sanction purgatory, and with the FBI investigation expected to imperil up to three dozen schools, the NCAA had to show a resolute face going forward. The organization needed modern-era precedent and a willingness to hand down harsh sanctions as it tackles the much bigger fish in the future.
Were the penalties draconian? That’s a judgment call. But the punishment meted out here wasn’t about the past. These sanctions are about the future. And, make no mistake, as bad as the sanctions are for the Cardinals, they’re going to be so much worse for those schools embroiled in the apparel bribery scandal.
One of those schools, by the way, is the University of Louisville.