CRAWFORD | Ramsey and Louisville needed to put more cards on the - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Ramsey and Louisville needed to put more cards on the table

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Louisville president James Ramsey and athletic director Tom Jurich announce a self-imposed postseason ban for men's basketball on Friday. (AP photo) Louisville president James Ramsey and athletic director Tom Jurich announce a self-imposed postseason ban for men's basketball on Friday. (AP photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Always be careful when evaluating a person’s actions if you don’t know what cards they’re holding.

In my business, you can’t always adhere to that counsel. Sometimes, you have to evaluate without knowing. You have to judge an official’s decisions without having the benefit of that official’s information.

Such is the case with University of Louisville president James Ramsey.

Here’s what I believe: Outside of decisions that affect national security, if you take public action, you should make public explanation. I’ll say it in simpler language: If you’re not ready or willing, as a public institution, to describe the crime, then you should not be able to start doing the time.

When Ramsey imposed an NCAA and ACC postseason ban on the men’s basketball team Friday, he might’ve been doing the right thing.

Any of us, presented with the same set of facts, might’ve done the same thing. Unfortunately, none of us gets that chance, not today, and not for a while.

We don’t get to look at any of the details. Not the media. Not the fans. Not Rick Pitino. Not the critics. Not the supporters. Not even, apparently, the three faculty members who serve on an investigative committee, the existence of which, to my knowledge, had not been previously reported.

Athletic director Tom Jurich had that chance. While he is not, as the university’s outside advisor and attorney Chuck Smrt said, updated on all the details of the investigation, Ramsey said he consulted Jurich on this call. Jurich heard the facts. And Jurich said he supports the decision.

Ramsey said he learned Thursday, and verified through Smrt and the NCAA, that violations had occurred within the men’s basketball program, presumably (though he wouldn’t say it) surrounding allegations made by a Louisville woman who said she provided strippers and escorts for Louisville players and recruits from 2010 to 2014.

“We found out yesterday that we had a problem,” Jurich said. “It was verified by Chuck and the NCAA, so we want to deal with this in as rapid a way as we possibly can. Although it’s a very disappointing time, a very sad day for all of us, it’s extremely sad for our players . . . we want to do what’s right by the university, and by the NCAA. We support these actions, though they will be very painful.”

Making the actions more painful is that people don’t know how to judge them.

I’m not saying that Ramsey, with Jurich’s support and in consultation with him, made the wrong decision on this Super Bowl Friday afternoon. I’m saying he made a premature decision. And here’s why.

It’s a decision that may well cost the university thousands of dollars, maybe millions, if the donors I spoke to Friday are any indication (and I’m not even talking about the income lost through tournament absences). He needlessly enraged a good portion of his fan base. He left his university dazed and confused, and gave them no real reasoning behind it except an implicit message of “trust me.” And a day is coming, by the way, when he’ll have to enrage them all over again, when the details emerge.

It’s a decision that could, eventually, cost him the public support he needs to do his job. By announcing an action without giving any specific details, he undermined his own position, and cost himself support that was already shaky within the broader university community.

It’s a decision that could, conceivably, cost him his basketball coach. Pitino said Friday he would abide by the president’s decision and move forward. But he did not look like a man who was in agreement with the way things are being handled.

Pitino, who told Jurich early on he would step down if that would improve matters, only to be told to keep doing his job, says he will keep doing his job.

“This is a decision that is as harsh as anything I’ve seen," Pitino said. "But I’m a soldier in this army, and I will go along with Dr. Ramsey, and certainly there’s no one in life I have more respect for than Tom Jurich, so we will go along with this, and we will play our last nine games of the season as if they’re the last nine we’ll ever play the game.”

Those last 11 words, I’ll let stand on their own.

But it was telling that even though, unlike before, Ramsey voiced his support for Pitino along with Jurich and others in making his statement, Pitino referred to Jurich as, “the leader of our university.”

It's a decision that, of necessity, moved fans to focus on the players as victims without giving them details of the transgressions to balance their reactions. Maybe that was by design, I don’t know.

But the decision left fans nowhere, really, to place their anger except upon the president who made the decision.

Pitino got the news of the postseason ban the night before he delivered it to his players, first to Trey Lewis and Damion Lee by themselves, and then to the entire team.

Most of the focus was on Lewis and Lee, who certainly had nothing to do with these events, and who spoke with some eloquence at a news conference later. But four players on this roster were present on visits or as players during the timeframe of the allegations. Whether they were part of the illicit activities, we don’t know.

(That, by the way, is a wrinkle in this decision. If there are players on this team who are implicated in the alleged events, it’s possible that any postseason wins this program collected would later be vacated anyway, especially if the university had knowledge of that. Most of us would agree, if that’s the case, this certainly was a sound decision. In fact, if that’s the case, there was almost no other decision to make. Unfortunately, none of us knows if that’s the case or not. At the very least, if it is the case, Ramsey owed it to the program’s fans and supporters, and to the university, to say so, even if he had to say it in a general way without giving specifics.)

I’ll have more to say about Pitino, and about Louisville’s players, in other columns.

It's a decision that left the most painful parts of this whole situation, for many fans, and in fact for the university in general, still ahead. A day of reckoning is coming when the university will have to acknowledge what exactly happened in the basketball dorm. How many players? How much money? What it has learned. Not to mention the appearance before the committee on infractions when the real penalties are handed down (or previous penalties accepted as enough).

Larry Wilder, the attorney for Katina Powell, told WDRB Friday that when she was interviewed by the NCAA some time ago, it already had spoken to more than a dozen former Louisville players or recruits who confirmed being at parties such as she described in the men’s basketball dorm. He didn’t know the specifics of their testimony. 

It's a decision that does not guarantee future leniency from the NCAA. There may well be more penalties. When asked if he hoped this would “be enough” to satisfy the NCAA when the penalty phase comes, Ramsey said: “Yes.”

But he has no way of knowing. If players on the NCAA championship team are implicated, and every indication is that some will be, that title might be at risk.

It's a decision that drew national ridicule. When Syracuse imposed a postseason ban for its current season a year ago, it drew heavy criticism. Every time it has been done, cries have come up that schools are looking to protect their own interest and throwing their students aside. Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com and Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News were among the first to weigh in with this opinion Friday, and did so very well.

In principle, to enact a postseason ban when players have had no chance to make a decision for themselves on whether they’ll be part of the lost season, or to avail them of NCAA transfer rules before it is made, is wrong. The practice should be eliminated, by rule, by the NCAA. 

That’s my general belief. I have to apply it to U of L here, because U of L provided no specific details for me to determine otherwise.

Smrt, who we saw and heard from for the first time since all this broke in October, said that he understood the frustration of reporters and even fans.

“One of the disadvantages when an institution takes action while the inquiry is ongoing, it shows decisiveness, and it shows integrity, but it also handcuffs the institution,” Smrt said. “At some point, this information will come out, and you’ll be able to evaluate, here’s what the institution had at at different points along the way, and here’s the actions they’ve taken up. I understand the frustration that you don’t have some of the information that’s a basis of a decision. Unfortunately, because the institution acted so decisively at this time, before the conclusion, we’re bound by NCAA bylaws and what can be said.”

Two quick amendments to what Smrt said. First, we don’t have any of the information that’s the basis of the decision. We know the basics of Powell’s allegations, yes, but even those left plenty of holes. At this stage, if a university is far enough along to pull the plug on a basketball season, it should be far enough along to share its rationale for that with the people who are footing the bills for its existence.

Now, that kind of disclosure, Smrt says, is against NCAA bylaws. All right.

Sometimes, in these situations, you can’t see the forest for the lawyers. The NCAA is important. But it isn’t the only thing that’s important.

The NCAA is all well and good, but universities have to live in the real world. And in the real world, fans, alumni, faculty, and many others deserve to know, and should know, what’s going on. 

Smrt apologetically said there were several questions he could not answer. He couldn’t talk much about process, or time frame, or individuals who might or might not be involved. After about the third time he deferred, Pitino got a question, and sitting right beside Smrt, said this.

“Chuck had a conversation with me when I first said, absolutely, I had no knowledge of any of this . . . and I said I can’t find anyone who has any knowledge. And Chuck said, you can’t say that. You can’t go to the press conference with the ACC and say that, because you’re basically intimidating witnesses, because, how do you know that? Well, I just saw the point, and that’s why I didn’t go. Because I can’t just keep saying no comment, no comment, no comment. I think it’s foolish.”

Yes. It’s foolish.

We’re all asked to judge. My colleague, Rick Bozich, rightly, asked Louisville fans to hold the basketball program accountable. They should. Absolutely.

But for what, precisely? Not only has there been no acknowledgment of exactly what happened, but there’s been no official document of allegations in this situation at all.

How many parties? How much money? What were Andre McGee’s actions? Who else was involved? How could Rick Pitino have better handled this program? What measures were not taken? What is the ugly truth?

Yes, people need to be angry about what happened. They also know where to direct that anger.

This isn’t national security. This isn’t war and peace. This is basketball and strippers and prostitutes.

Ramsey and Jurich may well have done the right thing on Friday. But because of the timing, and because of their inability or unwillingness to tell the public what is going on — even in a general way — we really can’t judge.

So I can’t blame fans for being angry, not just at the whole situation, but at how it was handled on Friday.

And it’s not over yet.

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