As snow fell outside of the arena and temperatures dropped into the low 30s here in the alternate universe of Tobacco Road, the conference historically most associated with college basketball excellence -- and yes, I’ll say it: relative purity -- is in need of disinfectant.
Syracuse vacated more than 100 wins and was slapped with five years of probation in 2015. North Carolina was caught in a case of blatant academic fraud but must’ve cashed in a get-out-of-jail-free card from its last game of Monopoly. Duke’s Wendell Carter is one of the big names referenced in an FBI investigation, though to this point he and the sainted Mike Krzyzewski are operating as if he did nothing wrong. Dennis Smith Jr., a former North Carolina State player, has something more significant than a lunch listed next to his name in a ledger obtained by the feds: payments or loans of $43,500 and/or $73,500.
Then there’s Louisville, the most organized of crime.
Even before it was named in the federal investigation for reportedly offering $100,000 (via Adidas) to prospective recruit Brian Bowen, Louisville two weeks ago officially was stripped of 123 victories, two Final Four appearances and a national championship won at the Georgia Dome in 2013.
“Stripped” seemed like the appropriate verb. One of Pitino’s former assistants, Andre McGee, was found to have organized dancers to peel off their clothes and provide other benefits for 15 prospective recruits that extend well beyond a meal plan.
Welcome to March Mudness.
Here’s a question: Why is Louisville even here this week?
The Cardinals have trudged through this season. They entered the ACC tournament as a ninth seed with a 9-9 conference record. They remain on the NCAA tournament bubble after hanging on to defeat Florida State 82-74 at the Barclays Center.
But the mere sight of Louisville is a reminder of everything that is wrong with college athletics in general and basketball in particular.
The players, even the innocent ones on this team, understand how they’re viewed.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it’s been difficult,” senior forward Anas Mahmoud said after Wednesday’s game. “There’s so much stuff going on around us, stuff we can’t control and stuff we can. It’s going to affect you. But we’re trying to have it affect us in a good way – give us motivation.”
This is all you need to know about the state of things at Louisville: The school has an interim president (Greg Postel), an interim athletic director (Vince Tyra) and an interim coach (David Padgett).
It’s an embarrassment that Louisville is even here. A strong case can be made that the conference never should have partnered with a school that chose to have Rick Pitino and Bobby Petrino as its primarily leader of men in athletics.
The Cardinals were the first college basketball program to have a championship banner taken down, and the alleged $100,000 offer to Bowen doesn’t project future bliss.
Louisville kept Pitino after it was learned he had an extramarital affair with the wife of the team’s equipment manager and then gave her money for an abortion. (It was exposed only after the woman tried to extort money from him.) The school also circled the wagons around Pitino after one of his former assistants was caught (after more than three years) providing strippers and prostitutes to recruits.
Pitino was fired only after the FBI investigation was announced in New York. So this is kind of like old home week.
Pitino, of course, denies knowing anything about the sex scandal.
“I had no knowledge of the reprehensible things that went on in that dormitory.”
Nobody believes that. Besides, ignorance is not a defense, it’s an indictment.
Former athletic director Tom Jurich also was fired. He also disputes any blemish on his perfect self.
It seems nobody at Louisville knew anything about anything. But they cashed the checks.
Former school president James Ramsey resigned in 2016 amid the strippers story and FBI allegations of misuse of public funds.
Not that FBI case, the other FBI case. I know, it’s difficult to keep track.
I support the arguments for paying college athletes, or at least allowing them to earn money with their likeness. But I dispute any suggestion that it will end cheating or the vermin mindset that permeates institutions like Louisville.
As Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said the other day, “People who want to cheat are still going to cheat.”
When the NCAA denied Louisville’s appeal of sanctions and even added to the penalties, Postel fumed.
“I cannot say this strongly enough: We believe the NCAA is simply wrong,” he said.
He was under the mistaken assumption that because Louisville apologized, “cooperated fully” with the investigation and self-imposed some penalties, the NCAA should’ve gone easy on the Cardinals.
What a fool. He’s a doctor. He once held the position of chairman of the radiology department at Louisville’s medical school. Being an expert on things like X-rays, MRIs and CT scans should enable one to see things clearly, but Postel operated as if he’s wearing blinders.
I feel for some of the current players and coaches at Louisville. But athletic programs can’t be punished without the innocent paying a price. It’s the way sanctions work.
Padgett, who’s only 33 years old, seems like a nice enough guy and he obviously has had a difficult job this season. How has he navigated all of this?
“Keeping my focus on (players),” he said. “I haven’t been focused on anything else since that day in September when I was named coach. They don’t get a chance to do this season over again, so I’m going to put everything I can to make this season successful.”
But the season is already grease stain on college athletics. We didn’t need a reminder of it this week.
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