CRAWFORD | Cutting ties for NCAA purposes poses a delicate dilemma for Louisville
Recent social media complaints by two Louisville basketball players that they were denied access to the program's practice facilities reveal the delicate politics of disassociating from former players.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Facts. Without Chane Behanan, there would have been no NCAA championship in 2013 for the University of Louisville basketball program, nor a Final Four in 2012. Without Montrezl Harrell, the 2013 title doesn’t happen, nor does the 2013 Big East Tournament championship.
Both players said this week via social media that they’d been denied access to workouts with current U of L players in university facilities. It should be no surprise — to us or to them.
In its appeal to the NCAA, the university said it had, “disassociated (redacted) student-athletes who had not cooperated with the NCAA’s investigation.”??
It seems reasonable to assume that Harrell and Behanan, based on experiences they shared this week, likely fall within that group.
Anyone who does would have been notified by the university. The public was not notified. U of L sports information director Kenny Klein said that the university won’t comment, citing privacy concerns for the players. In general, universities can say when they disassociate from individuals, and in fact probably should, so that everyone knows they’ve disassociated.
The University of Kentucky, for instance, disassociated from a Lexington restaurant and its owner in 2008 when it found he had been giving players free meals. It didn’t publicize the disassociation, but acknowledged it when it became public through an out-of-state open-records request.
For Louisville, the situation is a bit different, not only because the parties involved are former players, but because the school itself maintains that the players are guilty of no wrongdoing, beyond not speaking to the NCAA.
In fact, in its appeal, U of L argues that the players (or recruits) involved in the stripper parties and sex with prostitutes facilitated by then director of basketball operations Andre McGee and Katina Powell in the men’s basketball dorm were victims themselves, and that none claimed to know money was changing hands for sexual activities, and therefore are being penalized wrongly by the NCAA.
Here’s the problem — if that is the case, then is the university not wronging these players twice? First, they were put into an unwanted situation regarding strippers and sex by a university employee, and second they are then penalized for not talking to the NCAA, when, frankly, talking to the NCAA might only have hurt the school in its case.
It’s hard to blame players for not wanting to talk to the NCAA if they didn’t have to. The situation is embarrassing. It’s none of the NCAA’s business who they had sex with in college (at least, not until that sex turns out to have been paid for by a basketball administrative staffer). Regardless, it’s a thorny business to talk about, there’s little to be gained by the players cooperating, and there’s no authority that can make them — except the threat of disassociation by the university.
In this case, the university followed through on that threat.
It’s a bad look all around, and yet another reason I felt that appealing these sanctions — unexpected though they were — was a tricky (no pun intended) proposition (no pun intended) for U of L, once the NCAA ordered those victories, titles and banners vacated. If you have to write off players who won the banner just to save the banner, the whole thing just seems messed up.
Which, of course, it is.
The reaction of the players, too, is itself surprising, given that the university no doubt notified, or attempted to notify them, of the situation. These kinds of actions usually carry some kind of term, and in this case, probably not a long term. The banishment is temporary.
There’s no telling the extent of this. We don’t know what other players are involved. Did Russ Smith speak with the NCAA? Terry Rozier? Peyton Siva? Just who exactly are we talking about, and how many players has the university seen fit to cut ties with?
Maybe, over time, we’ll figure all of it out.
It does underscore, however, that in the end, no matter how much the university disagrees with the NCAA, it remains very much a part of the NCAA. I’ll never forget the fight that former U of L student Muhammed Lasege had with the association, trying to gain his eligibility to play college basketball. The NCAA said he’d shown an intent to professionalize in his efforts to escape Nigeria to the U.S. for a basketball career, and ruled him ineligible. He sued.??
When his day in court came, his attorney, Jim Milliman, was floored when U of L attorneys showed up, sat on the side of the courtroom opposite Lasege, and filed a friend of the court brief in support of the NCAA’s position.
Now, U of L certainly wanted Lasege to be made eligible. Its officials might even have been rooting for him to win his case in private. But in public, officially and legally, they sided with the NCAA against their own player.
Thus it will ever be.
No one here is innocent, but if anyone deserves a break when it comes to public opinion, it should be guys who did not know what was going on, regardless of their actions.
We can all, of course, hope that we’d have walked away or acted differently. I always use the analogy of a diet. I might be looking to avoid foods that are bad for me. But if someone drops a pizza into my lap, I might have a piece. Now, it’s true, sex is a lot more serious thing that pizza, sure. But for college basketball players, sadly, sometimes it isn’t. And that’s a problem in itself, and another whole column entirely. But I’m just trying to look at things realistically. And sex, basically and literally, was dropped into the laps of a lot of these guys. It should not have been. Everyone with any connection to this case agrees on that.
Frankly, I’m even inclined to cut guys a break who did know (and enough did that someone could have spoken up) but did not come forward. Either way, the season is torpedoed. Louisville coach Rick Pitino says he would’ve sent guys packing had he been told, and the testimony of players who didn’t go to him gave that as their explanation. And that was his testimony to the NCAA. You’re either the guy who blew up a potential championship season by turning in your teammates, or the guy who blew up an actual championship season by not turning them in.
Either way, the championship is gone.
And even if it isn’t, even if the NCAA comes back and acknowledges that it did not charge U of L with the highest level of institutional penalties, so it should not have levied the highest level of institutional punishments, there still will be fences to mend, reputations to rebuild, and perhaps scars that won’t go away.
I would only say to players who find themselves separated from the school they played for — don’t take it personally. It’s just business. But it’s a nasty business, sometimes. The school is trying to preserve your athletic accomplishments, despite some activities you were involved in. It’ll mend fences with you at the next reunion.
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