Everything Hurts

Coach Rick Pitino speaks to his team during a timeout. Photo by Adam Creech

Ultimately, Louisville basketball’s day of reckoning wound up not being as bad as most Cardinal fans feared. It wound up being worse.

When the NCAA’s full ruling on the now 20-month-old ordeal was released last week, no one was surprised to see that the program had been placed on four-years probation. The additional scholarship hits were equally expected, the five-game suspension of Rick Pitino was acceptable, and the lack of an additional postseason ban for future years was an anticipated relief.

Then, hidden in the middle of the ruling like a depressing “Game of Thrones” plot twist, came the line:

“A vacation of basketball records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible from December 2010 [to] July 2014. The university will provide a written report containing the games impacted to the NCAA media coordination and statistics staff within 45 days of the public decision release.”

Unless Louisville wins its appeal or is successful in a lengthy court battle with the NCAA a la Penn State, the Cardinals’ 2013 national championship will be the first vacated title in the history of men’s college basketball. It’s the punishment every UofL fan has spent the better part of the past two years telling themselves could never be brought to the table.

The reason for the confidence was precedence. The money exchanged in this case was deemed to be no more than $10,000. For comparison’s sake, Syracuse was punished for benefits to a single player that exceeded $10,000, and there have been multiple NCAA cases over the past decade that have involved six figures worth of impermissible benefits. UofL, understandably, was quick to point all this out in its defense. The NCAA almost seemed offended.

The NCAA’s decision is littered with wording that conveys the infractions committee’s belief that the “repugnant” nature of the acts committed makes it pointless to compare this case to previous cases. Reading through the decision, it’s not difficult to see their point. The stories of confused 16 and 17-year-old kids who trusted an adult to take care of them away from home and were instead handed condoms and led to rooms with naked women make your stomach churn.

Even with that being the case, the NCAA is churning through uncharted waters here. As Jay Bilas said on radio and television last week, “I haven’t read the NCAA’s bylaws of ‘repugnant.’” There is no precedent for dealing with these types of impermissible benefits, for trying to regulate morality, only precedent for impermissible benefits that can be ascribed a specific monetary value.

Given that, it’s understandable why Louisville would choose the defense route it did. The issue here is that sex was involved, and sex, regardless of what the issue at-hand is, changes everything. The members of the NCAA handling this case quite obviously saw the acts as highly immoral, and therefore viewed the UofL defense as especially tone deaf. Still, the NCAA giving itself free reign to get away from its own bylaws and hand down punishment based on its own collective moral compass in special instances seems like a dangerous precedent.

It’s a precedent that, at least for the time being, has resulted in the ultimate embarrassment for Louisville basketball.

Before any of this was even a twinkle in any of our most disgusting crevices, I was firmly on the “vacating is the stupidest penalty ever – those games still happened, yes, even the Calipari ones” bandwagon. The majority of the outside world that has reacted to last week’s ruling has seemed to agree.

Louisville’s 2013 NCAA tournament games happened. We saw them. We heard or felt the Georgia Dome explode on Montrezl Harrell’s go-ahead dunk, and we’ve seen the “One Shining Moment” montage more than any of us would care to admit. Removing UofL’s name from a few record books and forcing the workers at the KFC Yum! Center to haul down a piece of cloth won’t change any of that.

Still, the 2012-13 Louisville Cardinals becoming the first college basketball team in history to vacate a national championship would be a big deal for all those who wear the red and black simply because everyone who follows sports would make it impossible for it to be anything else. Being the first to be cast in such a dubious light would be a stain and an annoyance that would be impossible to shake.

Aside from the emotions and feelings of those directly involved with winning the title who had nothing to do with any wrongdoing here (an aspect of all this that’s being too casually swept aside by everyone), that stain and that annoyance are why the banner matters. It wouldn’t take away the memories and I don’t think it would have a major impact on the future, but there’s no question that it would still hurt.

For the time being, everything hurts. VT