CRAWFORD | No appeal can restore Louisville's lost Shining Momen - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | No appeal can restore Louisville's lost Shining Moment

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This will not be a popular opinion. I understand the mentality of sports – and life -- today. You fight. You fire back. Someone comes at you? You go back at them twice as hard. You get on Twitter and start flaming.

Before the last sentence of the NCAA's Public Infractions Decision on the University of Louisville men's basketball program had been read on Thursday, you could already hear a legion of lawyers mobilizing. Don't you just love the smell of billable hours in the morning?

Louisville officials were defiant. They said the NCAA ruling was overkill. They vowed to appeal. Good luck. A closer read of the infractions report makes an appeal seem like a longer shot than the double-digit comeback in the NCAA title game or the 16-point first half deficit against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament championship. Yes, Louisville overcame both of those in 2013. But the NCAA vacated both with a single ruling Thursday morning, and this comeback will have to happen in overtime.

No. The deal is done. The verdict is in. Today, the brand of U of L basketball is strippers and hookers. It's time to rebuild the brand, and that brand won't be rebuilt by some appeals process, no matter the outcome. The luster is not going to be restored to that Shining Moment. The damage here is irreparable.

To boil all this down to a simple statement, we stand here: For four years, a member of Louisville's staff foisted a bunch of prostitutes on recruits and players; the head coach didn't know about it; the NCAA is ticked off and, precedent be damned, this will not stand.

The NCAA on Thursday ordered U of L to vacate its 2013 NCAA championship, its 2012 Final Four, some 123 victories from 2010 to 2014, including 15 in the NCAA Tournament, that were earned with players deemed to have been ineligible. The NCAA also suspended coach Rick Pitino for the first five ACC games of the coming season. It docked the program four more scholarships over the next four years. And it ordered the school to repay any NCAA Tournament money it received from the 2012, '13, '14 and '15  tournaments through conference revenue sharing.

Under the order to vacate, U of L must return all trophies, remove all public references to the championship, haul down that huge section of the Georgia Dome court from the KFC Yum! Center, wipe all statistics from the books, amend Pitino's coaching record and strike any ineligible players' statistics from the record.

If it stands, it will be the harshest penalty handed to a big-time men's basketball program in modern NCAA history. And all because Andre McGee decided hookers were a better gift than noise-canceling headphones or even sex-free trips to strip clubs (see Miami 2013 and Alabama 2012 infractions reports, wherein penalties weren’t enhanced just because strippers were involved).

The NCAA wanted to send a message. Frankly, when you read the details of some of these recruiting trips in the infractions report, I can't say that I blame them. Carol Cartwright, a current member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and the chief hearing officer for the committee on infractions in this case, called the activities she heard about in this case "repugnant."

I'm not the president of U of L. Fortunately for Louisville fans, I never will be.

But if I were the president, I'd tell my people: "We don't like it, but these things happened. We think these penalties are excessive, but in the end, if we won a championship using players who were ineligible, or involved in these activities or complicit in them, we don't want it. We don't want wins tainted by this scandal. I'm tired of it. And I'm tired of spending money to defend our people. Frankly, we could've not spent a dollar and pleaded guilty from the start and not gotten much stiffer penalties than were handed down. I'd rather spend the money on books or labs or professors or just go down and throw it in the Ohio River myself than fund another legal effort that seeks to defend the indefensible. We can't change the fact that these things happened. So we will pay the price that has been exacted, we will endure the pain inflicted, and we will move forward. If anyone has a problem with it, you're free to go. We will remove those banners immediately, and with them the stench of this entire matter. We will win more games, and hang more banners, and remember the painful lesson that we must be vigilant, and that we are -- all of us -- members of the same team, and when one does wrong, we suffer a common fate. We intend to comply from this day forward. We intend to pay the price if we do not. I'm sorry to those associated with this school in any way who have had to suffer the shame of these incidents. I apologize to the young men who were exposed to these outrages on our campus. I apologize to their parents. I apologize to our fans, and I apologize to our fellow institutions. Now it's time to worry about the future, not fight a losing battle trying to regain a past that was not the shining moment we believed it to be. Thank you."

I’m sure someone would catch the mic before the torches and pitchforks overtook me.

That speech won't happen. Louisville has dug in. I'm not sure on what grounds it will appeal, except that the NCAA was far more harsh because the impermissible benefits here were sexual in nature. But the report says, "the panel considers other factors besides monetary value in determining the level of the violations. . . . The nature of the violations themselves … elevates them." That rationale alone gives the NCAA grounds for making this decision.

You might or might not agree with that reasoning. But it is made based on the facts and circumstances. It may break with precedent, but the NCAA says this case breaks with precedent, which gives it the option of breaking new ground with its penalties.

BOZICH | Word that resonates in Louisville NCAA punishment: Repugnant

A dozen times, McGee trotted strippers into Minardi Hall to perform strip teases or sex acts for kids – at least seven and as many as 10 were under the age of 18 at the time – who were guests of the university as basketball recruits. One of them was handed a condom by McGee, sent into a room with a woman who had been paid to have sex with him, refused, left the room, then was coaxed back in by McGee, where he received oral sex.

Over and over, this scene played out. Recruits put in the awkward position of “do I or don’t I?” And none of them knew anyone had paid these women for their services. One said he was handed a condom and sent into a room, a stripper came in, sensed his nervousness, said “you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” to which he replied, “All right, well, I’m fine then,” and she left.

Look, I don’t believe Rick Pitino knew about any of this. I don’t believe he would’ve condoned it had he found out. At least one player in the NCAA report said no one would tell him because he would have “flipped out.” The NCAA doesn’t believe he knew. The NCAA didn’t even make the argument that he should have known. What the NCAA said is that he should have found out. Whatever. I’m not saying it was a willful action or even a willful ignorance on the part of the program that allowed these things to happen.

I’m just saying it happened. And the time comes when, as an institution with a lot of things going on, spending big money to defend an athletic department where it happened isn’t the best use of anyone’s time or resources.

The One Shining Moment isn’t going to shine anymore, even if you get enough fancy lawyering to save the banner.

Coaches are always telling us it’s all about the kids. In this case, some of the kids made bad decisions. Even more of them made a decision not to tell anyone about behavior that was wrong. More even than the coaches, the players were complicit in perpetuating this behavior.

I feel bad for guys like Luke Hancock, who I watched stand on the court after the NCAA championship, the “One Shining Moment” song playing, looking at his dad, who wouldn’t live a whole lot longer. I feel bad for all of them.

I feel bad for the fans – as much as anyone. I know what Louisville basketball means to them.

But sometimes bad things happen. And sometimes you have to accept them with grace and fortitude.

Here's the thing. You can’t put your faith in the NCAA for the entire process, then throw it away when you don’t like the result. U of L, from the outset, put itself in the NCAA’s hands, followed its guidance, determined to investigate and sanction itself by NCAA rules.

There were other voices who wanted things done differently. One person I spoke to with a background in federal law enforcement swore that Louisville was doing it all wrong. It needed to go to court, to press charges against McGee and Powell.

“Louisville, the institution, is a victim here. It did nothing to perpetuate this activity. These two people (McGee and Powell) were predators,” he told me. “Nothing she has said or written will hold up in court. There’s no proof anyone paid her. Her word is the only proof. A worthless journal. A book. Was there sex? Sure. What rule does that break? They’re too scared of the NCAA.”

That sounded like a wild and risky proposition back then. It makes a little more sense now that a grand jury said Katina Powell didn’t even have enough credibility to indict herself, and refused to indict her.

But that song is over. Louisville is at the mercy of the NCAA now, and there was no mercy in this ruling. And there is unlikely to be any.

And at this point, with the situation the university is in, throwing good money after bad doesn’t seem like the best decision.

REPORT: U of L player told NCAA that an assistant coach blamed bad practice on 'strippers'

Rick Bozich and I, along with several other local writers, have been working on a book about the history of Louisville basketball. The project has been on hold as we waited for this NCAA decision. One chapter of the book, in particular, that has been on hold has been one about the Louisville Basketball Brand. Years ago, when Peck Hickman was drawing recruits from a Navy program, Louisville’s teams were called the Sea Cards. The newspapers even called them that in headlines. Then there were the Doctors of Dunk.

When Louisville won the championship in 2013, the brand was Louisville First.

Today, ask any random person on the street about the University of Louisville – any aspect of it – and they’ll tell you about strippers and prostitutes.

The brand is broken. It's time to really put Louisville first, and to get about the process of rebuilding the brand, not salvaging this sordid chapter.

Finally here, I want to speak straight to Louisville basketball fans. I know how much these things mean to you. A couple of weeks ago I went to the funeral of a guy I rode the bus with back in junior high school. Jeff Miller was a little older than I was, a special needs student, and I wrote about him in the first column I ever wrote for The Courier-Journal. Jeff and I would debate and argue about college basketball with our bus driver, Dude Payton, all the way from Bagdad, Ky., to our school stop in Shelbyville. Jeff passed away at the age of 57, and I went to the funeral home in Christiansburg, Ky., where his brother showed me the casket. And there was Jeff, decked out in a University of Louisville warm-up jacket that had been given to him by Denny Crum himself, years and years ago.

I’ve been around this stuff for a long time, and I know how much it means to people. And I want Louisville fans in particular to hear this from at least one person today, even if it’s from someone who had nothing really to do with all this, because you didn’t hear it from the university in any heartfelt way, and you’re not likely to: I’m sorry you’re having to go through this. Whatever transpired that allowed these events to happen within your program, you deserved better.

I know there are far more important things than wins and losses and even national championships. But I also know how important those things are to you, for as many different reasons as there are people in the KFC Yum! Center. I know you’re catching it from Kentucky fans and media reports, and I know you have been for a while. And I know you’re angry. Believe me. I checked Twitter a few times today.

But I also know not a single one of you is defined by how many games Louisville wins or how many championship trophies are on display in the Yum! Center practice facility. I'm just sorry. I feel for you.

Life goes on. A year ago, when U of L decided to ban itself from the postseason, Pitino gave his players a slogan to help cope with the disappointment.

Be better, not bitter, he told them. It was good advice then. It’s good advice now.

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