CRAWFORD BLOG | Some personal thoughts on the Louisville scandal, and what happens next
Eric Crawford shares some personal thoughts on the latest scandal to hit Louisville's basketball program, and what happens next.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I can tell you that over the past seven years, I’ve been on the end of a few jarring phone calls, really once-in-a-lifetime calls, for most journalists who toil in the fun-and-games pastime of college sports.
There was the night I placed a call to Rick Pitino to say that a woman was accusing him of sexual assault at various media outlets in town, which resulted a few hours later in breaking the Karen Sypher extortion story.
There was the call, while I was driving on I-65, that a former Louisville escort had alleged that she’d provided strippers and prostitutes to Louisville basketball players and recruits for nearly four years.
And there was this morning, when the call came that a Louisville assistant had been implicated in a Federal investigation and reportedly was part of a scheme to funnel $100,000 in adidas money to an elite recruit, Brian Bowen.
Each one of those became the biggest story in sports for a time in this city, and in a couple of cases, became the biggest sports story in the nation for a short time.
Wednesday morning, I expect Louisville may find itself in that spotlight once again.
So, what’s ahead for U of L? I have been asked that dozens of times today, at the Manhattan Grill when I went for lunch, at Thorton's when I stopped for gas, on the sidewalk downtown, in hundreds of social media messages. Here’s what I expect will happen, quite soon. And please note, I’m not reporting these things as fact, I am just listing them as prediction. People have asked me, as someone who has been around a while, what I think is next. This is what I think:
1). RICK PITINO’S EXIT AS LOUISVILLE BASKETBALL COACH. I have enjoyed working with Pitino. He’s personable and talented. He’s resilient. Undoubtedly, he is a great coach. He is the central figure in the sport in this state for the past 30 years.
But there is no way I can see, given the accumulation of scandal within his program, that the university will allow him to continue. I expect the university to part ways with Pitino and the entire basketball staff in the coming days, perhaps sooner rather than later.
I don’t know who will coach the team. Former Cardinal Jerry Eaves, who is coaching at Simmons College? Former Cardinal and Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne? Former Cardinal Butch Beard? Could Bellarmine be persuaded to give Scott Davenport up for one season? Hardly seems fair to the Knights. Tom Crean is a good coach and an honorable man, who isn’t currently working.
The shot clock will be ticking on this decision. I don’t know who will coach the team. But I don’t believe it will be Pitino.
2). TOM JURICH’S EXIT AS ATHLETIC DIRECTOR. I don’t believe this will be immediate, but I do think it is imminent. His close association with and support for Pitino, his tight partnership with adidas, the desire of new university leadership to disassociate with any negative memory, will lead to his ultimate departure. For the good of the university, this perhaps would be best accomplished on some kind of mutual basis. Whatever you may think of Jurich today, or of this news, or of recent scandal at the university, his contribution to U of L in terms of building, of progress, of climbing the athletic ladder from one conference to the next, isn’t erased by the scandals that have beset his program, though it is damaged.
There are coaches at U of L whose work is obscured by these scandals who have done outstanding and upstanding work. Dan McDonnell in baseball, Arthur Albiero in swimming, Ken Lolla in soccer, Jeff Walz in women’s basketball, Rex Ecarma in tennis, so many have performed with success and distinction, without a whiff of scandal.
I’m not minimizing the train wreck we have seen in the U of L athletic department. I’m only noting that there are many victims who don’t deserve to be tainted by these events.
3). THE SUSPENSION OF BRIAN BOWEN. This is a foregone conclusion. I’m not sure whether it’s right. Who knows whether Bowen knew what kind of strings allegedly were being pulled by his family. When Cam Newton faced similar allegations that his dad had asked for money in exchange for his son to play football, the NCAA allowed him to play because he’d had no knowledge of what went in.
The big difference was that in that case Newton’s family received no money. In this case, at least $25,000 is alleged to already have changed hands, with three more payments of that amount promised.
The Cardinals will play this season, but they will play without their most anticipated newcomer.
4). WHAT ELSE? Beyond those things, we’ll have to see. The university will have to launch its own investigation, likely will have to undertake more self-imposed sanctions, and hope that those, in combination with cleaning its athletic house, will persuade the NCAA not to consider the so-called “death penalty.” That penalty, passed in 1985, gives the NCAA the right to ban any program from competing in a sport for one or two seasons if it commits two major violations within a five-year period. These two in U of L basketball, if this were to stick, would have occurred within four years of each other, with one committed while the other was still being adjudicated.
And what must the Atlantic Coast Conference think of all of this? It now has two institutions implicated in this federal probe, though many more conferences could be in for more of the same.
The university itself has business to attend to. It has a financial mess to clean up within its university foundation. It has a budget crisis brought on in part because of the management of that foundation, and in part because of falling enrollment, which is due in part to the proliferation of scandals both in athletics and within the university. It has no permanent president, or provost.
It doesn't make me happy to write any of this. I feel mainly for people who are students and alumni now, who have been hurt by all these events. The university is bigger than its sports teams.
At the moment, the job of the university trustees is to safeguard the university and its academic mission, and to protect it from more damage, whether it comes from athletics or anywhere else. There exists no individual at U of L who is bigger than that mission.
Over the past decade, I’ve found myself having to cram, as if I were still in school at U of L, to learn NCAA regulations and legal procedures. I’ve had to explain prostitution to my kids before I otherwise would have, and had to write about things that I never thought would cross my path as a sports columnist.
It would be nice to write about the games again. But it’s going to be a while before that happens. U of L has some ground to cover before these issues will recede.
And when they do, I expect the landscape underneath them at the university to look vastly different from how it looks today.
I will write more about this in a subsequent piece, but I do want to mention it here. This university has been able to go where it has and achieve the things it has because of the people and city who support it, more than any leader or coach, though they certainly have been instrumental. Sports life as Louisville fans have known it for most of two decades may be about to change radically, but sports life will go on here, and these scars will heal. It may just take some time.
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