NCAA sanctions Louisville, but does punishment suit the crime?


In 2013, the Louisville Cardinals stood atop the NCAA as champions, the school was the best in college Basketball and head coach Rick Pitino could do no wrong. Fast forward four years and the culmination of a two-year sex scandal investigation means that championship is at least tarnished.

The NCAA on Thursday released its punishment for Louisville in relation to the prostitution scandal that has engulfed the school’s Basketball program. In the wake of the NCAA report, the world of hoops is picking through the details to decide whether the Cardinals got the right sanctions, were harshly treated, or were given a pass.

Before discussing the ramifications, it is best to see just what the punishments are. The NCAA found that 15 prospects and three fully enrolled student-athletes had been rewarded with “adult entertainment and/or sex acts” during recruitment stages. For this, the NCAA passed the following punishments.

  • “Pitino, ruled with a failure to monitor, will be suspended for the first five ACC games of this coming 2017–18 season.
  • Louisville will be put on a four-year probationary period, during which four total scholarships will be eliminated (each Division I team can offer 13).
  • Former assistant Andre McGee will be banned from college basketball for 10 years.
  • Louisville will “return to the NCAA the money received through conference revenue sharing” during the four NCAA tournaments from 2012 through 2015.
  • Finally, any “games impacted” between December 2010 and July 2014 that involved an “ineligible” student-athlete (one of the three enrolled players) will be vacated. That would appear, for now at least, to include the 2013 championship.”

The big question now is whether this punishment is fair? Louisville and Pitino certainly don’t think so, with the latter calling the ruling “over the top,” and “unfair” before adding his faith in the NCAA was gone.

“The [NCAA] has accepted our self-imposed penalties and levied additional severe penalties that we believe are excessive,” interim university president Greg Postel said, citing the Cardinals decision to voluntarily withdraw two scholarships during 2016/2017.

“It never should have happened, and that is why the school acted to severely penalize itself in 2016,” Postel said. “[The NCAA] went beyond what we consider to be fair and reasonable. We intend to appeal all aspects of the penalties.”

However, for all the protestations, there is a compelling argument to suggest that the NCAA has not been hard enough on Louisville. Without getting into hyperbole or displaying faux outrage, it is hard to overlook the fact that the school’s Basketball operation knowingly paid for underage people to receive sex acts.

Some argue that the fact Louisville is likely to have its 2013 NCAA championship expunged from the record books is punishment enough. It is worth noting that it is unclear if this will even happen, but even if it does it means little. Yes, history is good, but sport is about the pursuit of glory and celebration of it.

Removing the championship after the event will not stop those amazing memories for fans, nor will it remove the fact that Louisville was obviously the hottest ticket in town that season. The team was still the champion that season, whether the books show it or not.

As for Pitino, the five-game suspension is almost embarrassing. Firstly, because it suggests he played no part in supplying underage prospects with sexual favours and secondly because five games feels like a token punishment. It is especially unsavoury when there is clear evidence that many of the visiting prospects were not expecting such treatment and mostly did not welcome it.

For the latter, Pitino’s backroom team can cover him for five games. As for the possibility that Pitino didn’t know, it is at least possible. But then it would also suggest a level of negligence. This is a coach renowned for overseeing his Basketball program with toothpick detail. He is also the best paid head coach in the division, earing $7.8 million per year according USA TODAY Sports’ salaries database.

If he did not know, he was not doing his job. If he did know, he should lose it.

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