The Thinker

The Thinker statue on the University of Louisville campus.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In a way, the NCAA's verbal notification to the University of Louisville that it is ready to begin the enforcement process on possible "pay-for-play" violations is good news, because it means the school can get on with things, learn what the damage is and begin to finally put all of it into the rear-view mirror.

But the details will be significant. We don't know what's in the FBI documents the NCAA, as of last week, was still seeking to obtain. We don't know what new wrongdoing by (former) U of L coaches they might turn up. We don’t know what penalties the NCAA might pursue, given that U of L will be a repeat offender.

So how will Louisville proceed with this process, and will it differ from how it proceeded in the last one, that resulted in a self-imposed postseason ban and the eventual vacating of two seasons' worth of wins, multiple championships, a Final Four and NCAA title?

My suggestion to the school – speak softly, but carry a big team of lawyers. A really big one.

While the NCAA may be looking to make an example of the school as a way of firing back against the biggest and most widespread scandal the organization has faced since the 1950s, U of L had better be ready to vigorously defend itself against a landscape in which it – and in many ways, it alone – has taken dramatic action in the face of suspected wrongdoing. Heads rolled.

It is Louisville that fired its Hall of Fame head coach. No other head coach has been fired in connection with these activities.

It is Louisville that removed its athletic director, and replaced its president, and its board of trustees. It is Louisville that has enacted groundbreaking measures to guard against the kinds of violations that landed it in trouble in the first place. It is Louisville that let the assistants involved go – only to see one happily employed by another NCAA institution without penalty, and another back working with players at the grassroots level without any NCAA sanction.

The only entity that Louisville has not severed ties with is adidas – but the NCAA itself continues to do business with adidas and every other shoe company.

At Kansas, which is in this thing at least as deeply as Louisville and perhaps deeper, Bill Self remains the coach. At Arizona, which is more deeply in jeopardy in terms of potentially benefiting from players involved in this scheme, Sean Miller has remained in place.

I understand the national narrative (though national narratives are notoriously lazy and simplistic): If the NCAA can't punish Louisville for this, then what can it punish?

But if I'm Louisville, that's a question I would be prepared to see settled in court, rather than in the NCAA’s infractions process, if I'm not satisfied that the NCAA is being reasonable in its punishment.

A federal court already has determined that Louisville and other schools were victims of criminal fraud in this process. To be sanctioned for being a victim – and a victim that was found by the court not to have benefited from the entire scheme – would seem a topic that the courts might be willing to take up.

At Louisville, there seems to be resignation that some additional penalty will be assessed. What the school and its leadership must decide is what penalty will it accept, and what will it deem too much?

There's an old saying out where I grew up, "You can’t get blood from a turnip." At some point, there’s not much left to take. Louisville has given up just about everything it can give up. There's nobody left to fire. There's nothing left to vacate.

Maybe you add more years of probation. Maybe you accept more scholarship reductions. Another year of postseason ban? Perhaps. Anything beyond that and I’d assemble the highest-priced, highest-profile legal team I could put together and welcome the fight.

If I'm U of L, there's only so much more bleeding I’d be willing to do. The university, in response to the FBI investigation and subsequent allegations, has absolutely nothing to apologize for. It acted boldly and decisively. That’s not the case elsewhere in the country.

It now may find the need to act boldly and decisively in its own defense. It should not shy away from doing so.

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