BOZICH & CRAWFORD | What do Ramsey's resignation offer, board's - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH & CRAWFORD | What do Ramsey's resignation offer, board's shakeup mean for U of L athletics?

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AP photo: University of Louisville president James Ramsey and athletic director Tom Jurich. AP photo: University of Louisville president James Ramsey and athletic director Tom Jurich.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin dropped a Friday bombshell in the Bluegrass, saying University of Louisville president James Ramsey has offered to resign. Bevin also said he plans to dissolve the school’s board of trustees and restructure it with 10 at-large members (instead of 17) appointed by him.
 
It’s a lot to take in, and there’s a great deal we don’t know. But as sportswriters, we’re going to take a look at this from the athletic side for a moment, with three key questions:
 
1. HOW MUCH OF THIS IS BECAUSE OF ATHLETICS?
 
ERIC CRAWFORD:
Well, if you listen to Gov. Bevin, not much. He said, “My focus is on the academic side – the education, workforce development. The athletic side has not driven my concerns.” He also, in answer to a reporter’s question, said he has not spoken to Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.
 
The sparring between Ramsey and the board of trustees has been going on for a while, and has spilled over into public discussion. That, more than anything, is the reason for Bevin’s actions.
 
But if you look at the underlying reasons for the trustees’ frustration with Ramsey, athletics could play at least a minor role. Ramsey made a decision this past February that was unpopular with the public to ban the men’s basketball team from the postseason after learning that NCAA violations had occurred related to Katina Powell’s allegations that she provided sex and strippers to Louisville men’s basketball players and recruits from 2010 to ’14. Some on the board questioned whether Pitino should have been suspended, others questioned the move to self-impose a ban. Ramsey told WDRB he thought his actions were appropriate, and would be judged that way by the university committee when all the facts are known.
 
On the whole, bad press for athletics has been rare during Ramsey’s entire tenure. The school dealt with a scandal involving Rick Pitino in 2009 when an extramarital encounter and subsequent extortion attempt against him blew up publicly. And there was some bad press when it was decided to hire Bobby Petrino back after his own scandal at Arkansas.
 
But those were minor irritants when compared to major questions the board had with Ramsey on questions over compensation, spending, communication and transparency. Too many times, board members said they felt blindsided by news, to the point where questions over votes of confidence were starting to become routine. Once that starts happening, the end is near. I don’t think anyone envisioned the end of this particular board of trustees being near, and legally speaking, it might not yet be.
 
RICK BOZICH: Athletics wasn’t the first reason on the list and likely not the second, third or fourth. Let me be perfectly clear: Governor Bevin said that academics drove his decision.
 
I understand that. But I also believe that athletics always has to be considered part of the conversation. Why? Because of the NCAA issues surrounding the basketball program and because, rightly or wrongly, for some people athletics is their connection to the University of Louisville.
 
Athletics is what people see and think about when they drive around the campus. Athletics has helped drive the growth of the university. Athletics is what the rest of the nation sees when U of L earns its exposure on national television.
 
One thing I have experienced over the last year while traveling out of town to cover U of L games – at North Carolina, Virginia or Notre Dame – is that people around the Atlantic Coast Conference ask these questions: ‘What’s going on at the University of Louisville? Who’s in charge there?’
 
The NCAA issues with the basketball program have kicked up negative publicity for U of L across the league. And we’re months from a resolution — at least.
 
Who can forget that picture from the February press conference when Dr. Ramsey announced that the school was taking itself out of the ACC and NCAA Tournaments? I wasn’t the only one who noticed that Dr. Ramsey and coach Rick Pitino arrived separately and did their best to avoid eye contact.
 
By the next morning that anti-Ramsey banner was hanging downtown and the chatter turned to how the president was not standing up for the basketball program. To borrow from a marketing program you might have heard, fans wondered if he had the program’s back.
 
Dr. Ramsey’s dip in popularity didn’t happen in a vacuum. The basketball issues were a contributing factor.
 
2. HOW WILL THIS AFFECT ATHLETICS?
 
BOZICH:
That’s the first question several fans have already asked me – and reinforces my belief that regardless of what the Governor says, athletics is part of this decision.
 
It’s too soon to say what impact this will have on athletic director Tom Jurich, Rick Pitino or any other U of L coach.
 
But I do believe this: Any uncertainty in leadership has the potential to become a problem. You can’t predict how athletic administrators or coaches will mesh with a new boss.
 
Jurich has enjoyed tremendous autonomy during Dr. Ramsey’s tenure. He serves as a one-man search committee while hiring coaches, rewards his coaches with upper-end contracts and provides top-of-the-line facilities.
 
As one former board member told me on Friday, Jurich is essentially the president of U of L athletics. He has as much authority as any AD in the country.
 
Who knows if the next president will be comfortable with that arrangement?
 
And never forget the recruiting component. Opponents are always looking for negative tidbits to turn a prospect against a school.
 
This will be the tactic opposing coaches will use: Are you sure you want to go to Louisville? You know they’re getting a new president and one of the first things the president is going to do clean house in athletics.
 
Is that true? Probably not. But truth isn’t essential in recruiting. Creating doubt is essential in recruiting. And this creates an opportunity to create doubt
 
CRAWFORD: At the moment, the I think the effect will be minimal. The department is in the midst of a major renovation of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Revenue is increasing. It’s on a solid financial footing. Despite the postseason ban for men’s basketball, it still is poised to finish among the top 30 athletic departments in the nation in all sports. It should be nationally ranked to start the year in its marquee sports of men’s and women’s basketball, football and baseball.
 
If it’s not too big to fail, it is too big to gut.
 
An NCAA ruling on the men’s basketball scandal could come this summer, and will mean more bad publicity for the school. Depending on what the NCAA has found within the athletic department, a new president or board could decide some changes are needed within athletics, but it’s unlikely the NCAA will find anything so radically different from what already is known that would spark a change in course.
 
While some may speculate about what the move means for Jurich’s future, or Pitino’s, I would say that the two are very much linked, and that any move to look at recent athletic scandals and decide that Jurich should move on would be a foolish decision. It would lead to a mass exodus of talented coaches, and create a rebuilding job that might take a decade to complete in terms of on-the-field performance, not to mention fallout in the fundraising and financial areas.
 
Ramsey’s practice has been to put athletics into Jurich’s hands and leave them alone. There has been some movement by the current board to exert more oversight over athletics. A new board likely will take a look at that, and certainly a new president will want to be involved too. But with the numbers of dollars at stake, it’s hard to foresee any future president wanting to rattle the cage of athletics too hard, with so many other issues to attend to.

Moreover, I think Junior Bridgeman’s presence on the three-person interim board should be of some comfort to athletics. He knows the university and its landscape, and how the university has worked with athletics in the past.
 
3. WHAT’S YOUR REACTION TO THE (LIMITED) REACTION BY TOM JURICH AND RICK PITINO?
 
BOZICH:
This was the statement that U of L released from Jurich: “I would like to thank Dr. Ramsey for the years we have worked together.  My wife Terrilynn and I love this city and the University of Louisville.  We will support the governor and will continue to be committed to our university.”
 
I’m not surprised that Pitino has not reacted. He’s celebrating with his family this weekend. No reason to join this discussion.
 
I was surprised by the tepid reaction from Jurich, even though he is also out of town. Only 41 words, with 14 devoted to praising Dr. Ramsey. Just 14 words for a guy who has been his boss for more than a decade?
 
I can remember happier times, like the days when U of L made its move into the ACC, when Jurich would give you 14 minutes of praise for Ramsey and his support for athletics. I have to read that as the reaction of the guy ready to move forward.
 
CRAWFORD: I wouldn’t disagree. 
 
This is a fluid situation where it’s probably not smart to say too much, and a situation that is so unusual that one doesn’t really know what to say, beyond, ‘Thanks for the memories.’
 
It’s always uncomfortable when you go from a situation where you have significant influence to one where you might have less. But I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this. Bevin is using a Kentucky statute that he believes gives him the authority to establish a temporary reorganization of the board until the General Assembly meets to approve the changes. It’s unclear whether he might face a legal challenge, but given the current climate, that’s a pretty safe bet. Probably the best thing for everyone to do is sit tight and see where everyone stands when the dust settles on this. I think that’s reflected in what we heard from Jurich today. And Pitino, at his daughter’s wedding weekend festivities, isn’t likely to comment on these matters until he returns.
 
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