CRAWFORD | Feeling the ban: Absence of details only fanned the flames of fan anger
Reaction to Louisville's self-imposed postseason ban was swift and strong, but fans still didn't have enough details to determine a clear focus for blame, Eric Crawford writes.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Sometimes it’s not enough to make a decision. If you’re a president of a country, or a university, if you truly want to lead, you have to sell the decision, get the public on board with a decision, bring people along with you.
You have to unite people behind a decision, win their hearts and minds, if at all possible, even if it is an unpopular one.
That’s one reason I had a problem with University of Louisville president Jim Ramsey’s leadership in the recent decision to ban the men’s basketball team from this season’s NCAA Tournament.
I explained all of that in a column. You can read it here. I also explained something that apparently was lost on the public — that this decision was not made unilaterally by Ramsey, but in close consultation with athletic director Tom Jurich.
In fact, if you read the comments from both men in Friday’s news conference, Jurich spoke of the decision as if it were his own. And he’s the only Louisville official I actually quoted in terms of why this was done.
So when I arrived at Saturday’s Louisville game against Boston College to see a “Ramsey is a Coward” sign strung across the front of a nearby bar and restaurant, I wasn’t surprised. When I was bombarded on social media with invitations to join online petitions to “overturn the ban” or protest it, it didn’t come as a shock.
I was, I have to confess, a bit disappointed that no one was protesting the violations. But as I wrote, in the absence of actual details about what the violations were, the only place for people’s anger to settle was on those who made the decision. That, as they like to say these days, is a fail, where leadership and communication are concerned.
Cardinals’ coach Rick Pitino, when asked directly about the petition efforts, paused for a minute and then said this:
“Let me say this, the system is broken. Please nobody blame Dr. Ramsey, Tom Jurich made this decision, not Dr. Ramsey. Dr. Ramsey had to OK it, if Dr. Ramsey didn't want to OK it, he could have vetoed it. But Tom made the decision. Tom is the best athletic director in all of athletics. Now, the mistake was not made with Tom making the decision, we've all got to live by that because we all love the man, we respect the man.”
The problem, Pitino explained, was that Ramsey did not put Jurich on the special investigative committee that gets regular updates on the university’s investigation. He claimed that had Jurich been privy to all that committee’s findings from the start, he would have taken this step much sooner.
We still would not have any details of violations, but it would’ve happened sooner. Not that it would’ve helped matters.
It’s telling, of course, that the moment Pitino invoked Jurich’s name, the protests had the rug pulled from under them. That’s the trust people have in Jurich’s leadership. It also, sadly for Ramsey, reflects the lack of trust they have in his. Ulterior motives were assumed.
“Dr. Ramsey is taking a lot of heat right now,” Pitino said. “Please don't give him the heat. He's taken enough heat from enough places. He doesn't need this heat. Because he's done a lot of great things for our university. . . . He doesn’t deserve this.”
The notion underlying this is that no one on this team was involved in any of the events in question. But neitheir Pitino, because he hasn’t been given the information, nor school administrators — because they won’t talk about the investigation — can really tell us that for sure. The NCAA has been on Louisville’s campus and interviewed every member of this team. A source close to the investigation told WDRB that some players had ther own legal counsel present.
Four scholarship players who have started games for this season’s team made recruiting visits to Louisville and played for the Cardinals during the time frame under scrutiny. We don’t know if they were involved in any alleged impermissible activity where the NCAA is concerned.
Frankly, we don’t even know what the NCAA’s view toward them would be if they were. The focus of the NCAA here seems to be less on individuals — because, to be crass about it, the monetary value of one “side deal” for sex is negligible — than on the program and pattern of this arrangement between Andre McGee and Katina Powell.
Pitino has said on multiple occasions that no one on this team was involved in the events in question.
He also said on Saturday, “Now, if our players were involved in this, they should be out of the tournament and should not be allowed to play. That's my opinion, but that is not the way it works. All this investigating, it should be immediately.”
I agree with Pitino on this. The process is too disjointed. If an investigation has reached a point where action this drastic can be taken, it has reached a point where some preliminary findings should be disclosed.
There are major supporters of the university who have vowed, to me, not to write another check to the institution until they have some answers. I don’t blame them.
I only bring up the NCAA’s interviewing of the current team to say that, if players on this team were involved in some way, that’s the only way I could condone this action by the university. In general, the decision by schools to ban themselves from postseason play for the season in which they’re currently competing, is wrong, and that the NCAA is beginning to accept the move as standard practice is wrong.
It just seems strange to me that a school is taking a $2 million plus financial hit for $10,000 worth of misconduct that it can’t even yet detail publicly. Perhaps there are other issues. It’s why many have come to the conclusion that the violations are worse than originally thought.
Pitino said yesterday that is not the case. But again, he’s not getting the investigation updates.
Some fans have asked me, if this is an administrative penalty, would it not have been more appropriate for the school to suspend Pitino and let the team’s postseason chances play out how they would? Even Pitino, yesterday, while reiterating that he had no knowledge of these events, said that it would be more appropriate for him to pay a hefty fine than the postseason of this team be taken. I can’t argue with those who say that suspending the coach would be a more fitting penalty than pulling the plug on a team’s postseason. But I would also say this. For this young team, suspending the coach essentially would be pulling the plug on this team’s postseason.
And, as I noted in my original column on this, if there were individuals on this team involved in the alleged inappropriate activity, it’s possible the university was looking at a scenario in which this postseason’s results might be vacated anyway, if it knowingly played them.
I don’t like any of this. I don’t like speculating on things we ought to know about, and ought to be told about. Pitino called it a broken system. At the very least, it is an antiquated system. I know the NCAA has reasons for requiring things be done a certain way.
But there are people who have spent money to follow their sport, non-refundable plane tickets purchased, significant sums of time and money spent on plans to support this team at the ACC Tournament. Those people deserve some kind of explanation.
And there are, on this team, two highly visible, innocent victims in all this. I’ve liked Trey Lewis and Damion Lee from the minute I met them this summer. I got to know them a little bit during the team’s visit to Puerto Rico.
They deserve better than this. I’ve written a column about these two guys, and I’d appreciate you taking a look at it here. It goes into more depth on them, their situation, and their reaction to these events.
In the end, Pitino said, “We committed violations. We committed violations. . . . The limited knowledge, that I know, we were wrong. It should have never gone on. It turns my stomach. And I've said it 100 times, I don't want to keep beating this, but I don't know why they did it, it doesn't make any sense to me. It makes no sense. And everybody who was involved hurt a lot of good people, a lot of fans, and that should have never gone on. It did. And innocent people now will pay the price.”
There’s no clean way to handle a mess like this. You’re going to make people angry no matter what you do. And fans demand a villain. They just do.
But fans haven’t been given enough information in this situation. If you’re U of L’s leadership looking at the strong response, what else could you expect?
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