CRAWFORD | Crazy enough to work? Suit faces long odds
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed attorney John Morgan’s tour de force news conference Wednesday that was part-NCAA rant and part-Morgan & Morgan (“For the people!”) infomercial.
It’s nothing if not compelling. And I mean that literally.
In this town, anti-NCAA rhetoric is as easy to sell as bourbon. I’m just not sure either one helps you much when you get in front of a judge. I mean to say, in the end, what are you left with? NCAA hate, like bourbon, might provide a good time for a while, but you still only wind up with a headache.
This is my problem: The hyperbole of what happened Wednesday is so much more fun than the facts of the case. This was the first news conference in a while where after every word, I felt like yelling, "That's what she said!"
It’s one thing to say former Louisville players Luke Hancock, Tim Henderson, Gorgui Dieng, Mike Marra and Stephan Van Treese are suing the NCAA for damages to their reputations. Good luck to those guys. I feel bad for them. They had nothing to do with Andre McGee’s stripper and prostitute parties in the basketball dorm that culminated in the 2013 NCAA title being vacated, but have had to suffer from the fallout, some of it unfair, and some of it, yes, perhaps actionable.
But then we have attorneys dropping the names of Happy Chandler, Penn State, Louis Brandeis (that rattling under the U of L Law School portico Wednesday may have been him rolling over in his grave), Muhammad Ali, Donald Trump, Les Miles, the Salem Witch Trials, Greg Stumbo, Matt Bevin, Andy Beshear, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his novel The Scarlet Letter, David, Goliath, Rick Pitino, Peter Arnett, Lebron James, Jay Bilas and a Morgan & Morgan “dream team.”
Your honor, I implore you . . .
That’s what you call a cast of characters. It’s an impressive bunch of opening credits.
So it’s tough to separate the serious from the seriously crazy in all this.
One minute Morgan is excoriating the one-and-done practice as “just to make sure that the very best players in America have to come and serve their indentured servitude . . . so that the NCAA can bleed that kid for at least one year,” and the next he’s making what could be a good case for these guys who weren’t involved with any of the stripper stuff being lumped in with those who were.
(The NCAA, by the way, has nothing to do with the one-and-done situation. It’s an NBA age limit that creates the one-and-done possibility for some college players.)
I just can’t figure out how much of this is plaintiff-centered and how much is product placement.
“We’re Morgan & Morgan,” Morgan said early on. “We have offices all over the country. We flew up here today from Florida. But we have offices all over Kentucky and Boston and New York and states in between. We are used to fighting giants. . . . Our fights every day are against huge, huge insurance companies and manufacturers and makers of unsafe products. And so we are used to fighting Goliath, every single day. In the sports world, I don’t think there is any Goliath that exists like the NCAA. So this fight for us is a lot like what we do every day.”
That is, as we say in the business, good copy. But not as good as this from Morgan: “What we really do for a living at Morgan & Morgan is we bully the bullies. One thing a bully understands is blood in their mouth. If I was advising the NCAA, the one thing I would do today is I would reinstate the wins, and I would reinstate (Hancock’s) award, and I’d remove that scarlet letter today."
That, of course, is three things, if you're keeping score.
"They might not do it," Morgan said. "They’re going to do it. By God they’re going to do it, if we have to drag them by the head of the hair, all the way down from Indianapolis to the courthouse here, they’re going to do it.”
(For the record, I’m pretty sure I read back in one of those NCAA reports that hair-pulling cost extra, but I can’t remember.)
All of this will play well with a portion of the Louisville fan base. Heck, it plays well with me. I think the NCAA desperately needs reform. I could listen to this stuff all day. Without taking a breath, Morgan transitioned from coaches being ignorant of recruiting transgressions to a discussion of pawn shops. They “could not exist without stolen goods,” he said.
It's good stuff. He likens life in the NCAA to being on a bus that is pulled over. The driver is driving under the influence, so every kid on the bus is arrested. (No word on whether there were any strippers on the bus, but you get the point.)
I like it. But whether it has any relevance to the case at hand, I’m not sure.
Louisville is a member of the NCAA. The courts have ruled that the NCAA, through its membership, has a right to make its own rules. And even when the NCAA has been inconsistent, the courts have been reluctant to intervene, because it gives voluntary associations wide leeway in governing themselves.
These attorneys will argue that the NCAA, by its actions, has cast these plaintiffs in a false light; that is, they are painted by the same brush that tarnishes others, and the university itself, with a the broad charge of prostitution and NCAA violation.
Some of this is worth discussing seriously. If Hancock alone had sued the NCAA to keep his Most Outstanding Player award from the 2013 Final Four, I think we’d be talking about this a lot more seriously. And this suit might well give Hancock a chance of salvaging that.
But Morgan is swinging for the fences.
“So what we’re here to do today is simple,” Morgan said. “We wouldn’t have to be here, we called the NCAA two, three, four times, but they ignored us. That’s what giants do to the powerless is just stiff arm you and step on you and push you down until you push back. . . . We decided to push back on behalf of the University of Louisville, on behalf, for me, of Coach Pitino, and for all those great players. So today is about us pushing back and getting back what was wrongfully taken from these players, in terms of championship, and Luke’s MVP. . . . We’re here today to clear names. We’re here today to reinstate awards. We’re here today to reinstate all those wins, not just some of the wins, all of the wins.”
I wouldn’t hold my breath.
In the end, it’s a no-lose case for all these folks. Morgan & Morgan gets free publicity all over the place. Hancock either goes down swinging or beats the NCAA to get his award back. The media (and by extension, the public) could benefit from discovery in the case, which will include unredacted versions of many NCAA documents already released.
So what the heck? Let’s sit back and enjoy the crazy show. It wouldn’t be the first thing that was just crazy enough to work.
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