Don’t Feel Sorry For Pitino and Louisville

If you commit the crime, you have to do the time

by John Furgele

The NCAA College Basketball Tournament is nearing and soon, Americans—most of whom know nothing about college basketball—will be filling out their brackets for office pools.  As usual, there are 68 teams hoping to cut down the nets on the first Monday in April.  And, this year, there really is no clear-cut favorite.  Some of the experts feel that there are 20 teams capable of winning it all.

The most amazing thing about the tournament is that interest begins high and gradually decreases as the games march on.  As more and more brackets fall apart, the sense of resignation among Americans rapidly increases.  Still, the NCAA basketball tournament may be the best three weeks of the sports year, and with parity at an all-time high, interest should hold longer than normal this year.  With more parity, the signs indicate that there could be a Cinderella team making a Final Four run.

I was listening to Indiana coach Tom Crean talk to Doug Gottlieb the other day as his Hoosiers were on a bus travelling from Bloomington to Champaign, Illinois for a game against the Illini.  It was 5:30 pm on Wednesday and all the players were sleeping on the bus.  Is there anything wrong with catching a snooze on the team bus? Of course not, but the fact that all the players were sleeping does underscore the hypocrisy that is big-time college athletics.  Didn’t one player have any assignments to work on?  A chapter of sociology to read?  Some notes to take a gander at?  It wasn’t like it was 1:30 am and the guys were dead tired from a long day; it was 5:30 pm.

Don’t get me wrong, I like most, accept the hypocrisy that is college football and basketball.  It’s more of an upset if the players actually earn their degree and even when they do, you often wonder if they really earned it; or, was it handed to them.   College is hard, but it’s not that hard, but when basketball players are playing games on Mondays, Wednesdays and then on Saturday and Sunday, it’s really hard to keep up on the studying.  The experts lament that the true student-athlete is vanishing, yet on the other hand, they can’t get enough of the NCAA Tournament, so they eagerly await the field of 68 and excitedly fill out their brackets, trying to pick the one team that win it all and earn them at the very least, severe bragging rights.

One team that has no chance to cut down any nets is the Louisville Cardinals and once again, the hypocrisy has run amok.  The same people that think college athletics is overexposed are saying that Louisville is being unfairly punished by banning itself from the 2016 NCAA Championships.  Many use the tired line that the transgressions were done by coaches and assistants and the “current crop,” of players is paying an unjust penalty.

Let’s think about the situation.  A Louisville assistant coach hired strippers to entertain basketball recruits when they visited the campus.  These strippers were paid to have sex with the recruits in the hopes of luring them to play basketball at the University of Louisville.  The head coach, Rick Pitino, says that he didn’t know this happened and even if that’s true, does that exempt the university from being punished?

Pitino went on radio and sounded shocked that the team will have to miss the NCAA tournament.  He says that this players are crushed, particularly two graduate students who graduated from other institutions and were going to be playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time.  And, the broadcasters sympathized with him when they should have been taking him to task for allowing this to go on under his watch.  To be fair, no coach can control every minute of his players’ lives.  But, the assistant coach who organized the strippers and the prostitution?  He is an adult, a grown man who certainly knows right from wrong.  That’s the person who has to have the brain.  It’s like the 17-year old boy who has sex with his teacher.  For the boy, it’s a thrill, but for the teacher, who is supposed to know better, it’s  profoundly wrong.

If Pitino really didn’t know what went on—and there is reason to believe he really didn’t—that doesn’t immunize him from punishment.  What happened at Louisville was wrong and the school needs to be punished.  In fact, Louisville knows this because they banned themselves from this year’s postseason.  In the world of the NCAA that’s not only admitting your guilt, but it’s also an acknowledgement that stiffer penalties are forthcoming.  Pitino said when athletic director Tom Jurich told him that the school was banning itself, he asked Jurich if “it was really necessary,” and Jurich told him that yes, it was and this may be just the tip of the iceberg.

The NCAA can only do so much.  In the old days, they took away scholarships and they used to ban teams from the postseason and from being on television.  Those days are gone now because most teams broadcast all their games on some network and if Louisville is banned from TV, is that fair to Duke?

The NCAA also likes to take wins away from coaches.  They did it last year with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.  It’s like those games–wins and losses—never took place.  To me, that makes no sense.  The games were played, they were coached by Jim Boeheim and they should count in the standings.  Having seasons vacated isn’t fair to the fans that watched and paid to attend the games either.

The bottom line is that you have to try to follow the rules.  People will feel sorry for Louisville and so too, for Larry Brown and his SMU Mustangs who are also forbidden from postseason play because of academic fraud.  Most of the schools don’t get caught, so when you do, there is clear wrongdoing.

As America fills out their brackets the Monday after Selection Sunday, Louisville will be missing from the 68-team field.  Some will be saddened by this, others angry, while still others will shout vulgarities at the NCAA and its hypocrisy.

I will not be one of them.  Louisville deserves to sit this one out and if they pout, they should sit out the 2017 tournament as well.  If I’m Rick Pitino, admit your wrongs, promise to correct your program and take your punishment like a man.  That’s the best lesson you can teach your players.



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