UofL is wrong

When the week started, I wasn’t going to write about the self-imposed punishment by the University of Louisville on its basketball program. There seemed to be too many other important events to focus on a game. Plus, what more could I add to the conversation?

But since then, it has become personal. And whether it’s right or not, we cannot pretend that sports, and UofL basketball, are just a game. The university’s decision, by Athletic Director Tom Jurich and approved by President James Ramsey, is wrong. Their decision penalizes and causes hurt beyond those inside the locker room.

Every year LEO publishes a March Madness bracket. As with the rest of the paper, we are only able to do this thanks to the support of our advertisers. This year, we may not be able to bring that bracket to you, because five minutes into Friday’s press conference, our bracket sponsors backed out. And who can blame them? 

Other businesses have reported even greater economic consequences. The owner of Saints Pizza and Pub in St. Matthews, a friend of mine, told me that each game the Cards play in the postseason is worth an additional $3,000 to $10,000 per game. Greater Louisville Inc. estimates that UofL’s decision will cost local bars and restaurants $5 to $8 million. That does not include LEO’s March Madness sponsor, or the money I wasted on a plane ticket to D.C. for the ACC tournament. 

So when talking about punishing the wrong people, you’re talking about the entire community. 

Let’s be clear: The University belongs to the public. The YUM! Center belongs to the taxpayers who funded it. And the UofL men’s basketball program, the most profitable program in the nation, is only as valuable as its fans. Sure, TV contracts pay the bills. But if the school loses the support of its fans — Cards Nation — then the program is worthless. It’s not the university’s team, it’s our team.

This decision demonstrates a fundamentally flawed, myopic perspective of what Jurich’s and Ramsey’s jobs entail. Their specific job might be to look out for the best interest of the university, but inherent within that is a responsibility to do what is best for the entire community.

The timing is also unfair and unnecessary. No further wrongdoing (I would hope) has occurred since the investigation began. The NCAA, whose system encourages self-humiliation and self-flagellation, is still conducting their investigation, and they are notorious for illogical, disproportionate, unexpected sanctions. So why now? 

Among those asking “why now?” (beyond the two senior transfers) are Deng Adel and Mangok Mathiang. Both suffered significant injuries this season. Who knows how hard they have worked and how much they have risked re-injury in an effort to help this team win a title? One or both of them could have redshirted and saved their eligibility. They made their decision based on what turned out to be a lie, and an irreplaceable year was stolen from them.

Ultimately, the real problem is the NCAA. (I know you’re shocked.)

First, the NCAA needs to immediately set a precedent that it will no longer take into consideration any self-imposed penalties by its members. The only factor the NCAA should consider when leveling penalties against schools should be with respect to how cooperative they were through the investigation process. Anything else encourages schools to (A) penalize the wrong people, (B) reward self-humiliation and plea deals, and (C) reinforce a process that is inherently unfair.

Furthermore, the NCAA needs to end postseason bans and scholarship reductions. To use a presidential election analogy, this is akin to carpet-bombing and “making the sand glow.” There are too many innocent victims. UofL basketball is a special program, but the economic consequences felt by our community would be similar in Chapel Hill, Lexington or Bloomington. All sanctions need to be financially punitive, and to the greatest effect possible, confined to only those who are directly or negligently responsible. If they want to care for the “student athlete,” then they should never take away scholarships from a program. I understand the purpose, but removing scholarships literally takes kids out of classrooms. And drop this nonsense about “vacating wins” and “tearing down banners.” I was in Atlanta when UofL beat Michigan and cut down the nets. It happened. So to think taking a banner down is going to change the result is just petulant nonsense. 

The ACC and NCAA need to extend UofL an invitation to their tournaments, as they normally would. They should encourage UofL to reverse its position, and wait until the NCAA finishes its investigation and levels the only punishment that matters. 

From the very beginning, this scandal has felt more like a crime than an NCAA violation. It’s about more than basketball, and rightfully so. The entire story is disgusting. The university’s decision makes the wrongdoing all about basketball, and creates more wrongs than finds rights. This is bigger than basketball, and the university needs to respect that and reverse its decision.