Louisville did the wrong thing for the right reasons, and it continues to pay

Just because Rick Pitino was fired almost three years ago doesn’t mean the NCAA is done penalizing his former employer for his sins.

Cheating in college basketball recruiting is abhorrent because it elevates the result of the game over what should truly matter – the lessons that basketball instills in players and reinforces in fans.

It’s not that winning isn’t important, but the magic of the game is the tug of war that exists between the selfish and selfless.  Players gain excellence through work in isolation, but become champions only through reliance upon teammates and coaches.

Winning motivates effort and cooperation, but the ultimate reward is wisdom – not banners.

Louisville cheated.  There is no question about the guilt of the program in supplying prostitutes to players and recruits, and in arranging for payments to recruits through relatives.  In the quest for championships, Louisville lost its way.

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Already ashamed of the publication of the book Breaking Cardinal Rules (2014) by Katina Powell and Dick Cady which detailed the prostitution story, Louisville responded to evidence of a Louisville assistant coach handing cash to the father of a recruit by finally firing both coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

That was in 2017.

The NCAA was compelled to act as well – first in 2018 as an answer to prostitutes providing their special brand of “impermissible benefits” to players, and then yesterday a Notice of Allegations was delivered to university employees who were not employed there when Louisville got sloppy under Pitino and Jurich.

The penalties, including the vacating of the 2013 NCAA Championship, levied against Louisville so far have been limited to violations related to the prostitutes.  Next up will come the dings assessed because of the payment to a recruit’s dad.

Given the deliberate pace of the NCAA’s work, those penalties may come in 2021 – nearly four years after those responsible were terminated.

That’s justice?  Lawyers often say “Justice delayed is justice denied.”  No organization delays and denies justice with the plodding pace of the NCAA!

Meanwhile, Kansas and LSU continue to be rewarded for refusing to deal with its own smoking guns – the wiretaps that reasonable people believe proves coaches Bill Self and Will Wade were complicit in arranging payments to recruits.  Whether Kansas and LSU are reluctant to act because of a fear of being sued by their employees or they are intractably amoral is anyone’s guess, but as a practical matter it’s beyond argument they have handled their situation more sensibly than Louisville.

The playbook for beating the NCAA is plain to see in the examples set by Kansas/LSU – cheat, deny, fight.  Louisville’s mistake was to knuckle under by trying to do the right thing.  They didn’t want the reputation of their city’s university sullied by the actions of Pitino and Jurich, so both were canned.  Kansas and LSU understand kicking the can down the road makes more sense than slitting their own throats.

This is all very bad news for those who appreciate rules and consequences applied to those who violate them.  Rules are being enforced by an organization comprised of schools who author the corruption the rules are designed to prevent.  The NCAA is an organization so paradoxical, O. Henry must have created it.

It’s a shame that wins and losses in college basketball have become so important that grown men in sweat suits run around trying to subvert rules that should be unnecessary.  The game is the thing, and the lessons it teaches are the result that matters.

But how do we get coaches to understand that while breaking the rules enhances the likelihood of winning, it cheats the game and invalidates the result?

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