UofL scandal: Students over sportsball

[Editor’s Note: Read all of LEO’s coverage of the UofL basketball scandal, including contributor Ricky L. Jones’ “U of Hell: ‘Trafficking black bodies'” and contributor Kurt X. Metzmeier’s “Notes from the other ‘university 6.'”]

From the most-recent scandal involving Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino, to former UofL President James Ramsey’s abuses, to Gov. Matt Bevin’s meddling that threatened accreditation, to the prostitution scandal also involving the basketball team — this school has had enough.

Alumni, students and employees are frustrated and saddened by the latest scandal, and they are worried about how it reflects on the school. They wonder how UofL can continue in its current form.

The alleged bribery scheme involving UofL — potentially Pitino and some underling coaches — hit the news in heavy boots. It was the latest in a series of scandals that embroiled the basketball program, pushing the wider university further into controversy and speculation. This latest problem could send some folks to prison, and it could do serious damage to a lucrative basketball program.

What is happening at UofL?

Don’t get me wrong, Pitino and Jurich needed to be fired, but not for getting athletes paid. That should happen, anyway.

Athletes need to be paid.

However, UofL also needs to get its crooked house in order. The past few years of bad behaviors by leaders have crippled the morale of the university.

“I would say that the biggest morale problem is in all the questions that people keep asking about whether the university will continue to operate,” said soon-to-be UofL instructor Jenny Schinke Kendrick via email. “Of course it will. It’s too economically central to the city and state to go away just like that.”

UofL’s accreditation is governed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. In a Jan. 11 letter, the agency claimed that the university has not demonstrated that it is free from political influence because of Bevin’s dissolution and reformulation of the Board of Trustees. The agency listed standards that were out of compliance and gave the school 12 months to fix them, at the risk of the school losing accreditation. Bevin made sure to show up at the Association’s Sept. 19 visit to show how really free the school is from political influence. Apparently, it is not unusual for a governor to be in attendance at such meetings or to be interviewed. This week, Postel said a draft report shows the school now is in line with almost all of the rules. The Association is to vote in early December whether to take UofL off probation, The Courier-Journal reported.

The current scandal involving coaches and dirty money is one that has a lot of former Cardinals upset and rightfully so. They are questioning their donations to the school. Why give to something that allows this type of misbehavior? According to the CJ in an April article, pledged gifts dropped by $32 million over a nine-month period.

“I have my BS and MBA from UofL. The whole situation is embarrassing for the university, the city, and the state. Kentucky only makes the national news for violence and now criminal (mob-like) activity,” said Laura Thomas-Russo, a UofL Alumni who responded to a Facebook post about the scandals.

Another former student, David Hoover II, said via email, “I have many gripes with UofL and it’s bumbling bureaucracy. But it would be a crying shame to see it brought that low. It’ll rob a lot of people of good opportunities that won’t necessarily find them elsewhere; educationally. Sports be damned.”

He’s right, and perhaps this latest scandal can force the school and the governing bodies to look at how sports programs operate within the university. Maybe in the attempt to clean up its image, UofL could put the focus on strong academics and innovative programming instead of sportsball.

A couple of weeks ago, the school board chose to defund the Louisville Cardinal student newspaper. The lost money constituted 40 percent of the paper’s budget. Alumni donations and a GoFundMe campaign have temporarily lessened the crisis, but the future is uncertain for the paper.

Recommitting to the Louisville Cardinal, instead of threatening its existence, would have underscored efforts to push academics and programming, to stem the fallout from these other scandals.

Louisville Cardinal Sports Editor Dalton Ray said that, overall, students on campus are pretty numb to the repeated scandals, but that those who are interested in sports are buzzing.

“In terms of sports, everyone acknowledges this is the biggest thing to hit,” Ray said. “I’ve yet to talk to anyone on campus who hasn’t lost faith in Pitino. For sports-minded people on campus, a lot of them are curious what this means for the program as a whole, i.e. death penalty or nah. Other topics that spring from this is what happens to the NCAA, do players start to get paid, etc. It’s a wildfire on campus.”

Ray also has something to say about how the university has continued to flounder despite claims and efforts to improve the school.

“It’s truly a disgrace that the university misspends millions so this organization has to pay. They claim to be making strides to make this a better university, but do something that directly affects students in a negative way. It is embarrassing to be a U of L student right now.”

All valid feelings but not everyone is feeling disenchanted.

The Louisville Cardinal Editor-in-chief, Kyeland Jackson wrote in his Sept. 27 article, “Scandals, controversies improved the university.” He believes the scandals and controversies have made some things better at UofL. “It hired an interim president committed to accountability backed by an accessible provost. It welcomed a renewed, critical and invested board of trustees. It revamped the University of Louisville Foundation, tightened the university’s budget, focused its mission, erased shady scandals and now turned a critical eye toward rebuilding the sports program.”

He may be the only one feeling so hopeful, but someone has to shine a bit of light in the darkness.

UofL is a vital part of Louisville and integral to training the leaders and personnel we need to function as a modern city. It would be sad for it to lose more credibility or degrade further because of political chaos and the abuses of old men. More than anything, it is a tough road ahead for those who love UofL and those who count on it for their education. If it is to be saved from itself, I think it will take a community effort to preserve and renew its legacy. Also, keep Bevin out of the mix. He’s an anchor. •