The NCAA’s enforcement staff is not the adversary of college basketball powers. It exists to protect coaches, programs, and schools from the greed that destroys fairness.
But don’t tell that to the University of Louisville.
As with the University of North Carolina, which cleverly dodged massive penalties in response to academic fraud charges, Louisville is answering multiple Level One violations with a claim that a university should not be held responsible for the behavior of shoe company employees and street agents, even when they operate in the interest of the program..
They do this while knowing that if their argument succeeds, college basketball will cede all authority over the shoe companies and street agents who threaten the fabric of amateurism in college sports. This is ironic because no one really believes in the existence of amateurism in big-time college sports, especially at the schools whose coaches and administrators benefit financially from it.
Do they accept a twisted definition of amateurism as a rationale for paying themselves a ton of cash while stiffing the “student-athletes?” Oh, hell yes. If that’s amateurism, they love amateurism!
Let’s set aside that juicy irony for a moment to discuss what would be best for college sports given the current state of the rules – that schools get out of the NCAA’s way as it asserts penalties for those programs that run afoul of mutually agreed to legislation. If you violate rules – as Louisville did – take your medicine!
Schools have adopted the amoral corporate and governmental code of never admitting a mistake or misdeed because there is no profit in it. The concept of honestly admitting wrongdoing and accepting consequences is as anachronistic as train travel, slide rules, and phone conversations.
Deny, deny, deny! Use clever dodges instead of honesty. Raise the cost of rule enforcement to a point where the NCAA chooses to no longer enforce them. That’s how big time programs like Louisville Basketball do their business.
Louisville Basketball has run afoul of the rules enough times over the last decade that the NCAA finally decided enough was enough. First, the director of basketball operations paid for strippers with benefits to “dance” with players, recruits, and family members. This sordid affair was detailed in a book by the leader of the prostitutes, a wily character named Katina Powell. Then a recruit’s father negotiated a deal with a shoe guy in exchange for his commitment. Some of the cash was reportedly delivered by an assistant coach. Oof and ouch.
No school willingly cooperates with the NCAA, so the enforcement staff needed to rely upon Powell’s book and transcripts of federal wiretaps to prove the violations. That leads to a significant chunk of Louisville’s defense – they would never have been found out if not for the government’s fraud case and the word of a hooker/entrepreneur/author.
This is big business, and not just for U of L. Cardinals Basketball is a critical underpinning of the Louisville economy, the primary tenant of a beautiful downtown arena, and a focus of community pride, so maybe my high-minded morality has no place in this conversation. But if that is true, then Louisville Basketball has no business being a member of the NCAA – an organization that operates in opposition to the needs of their basketball program (and many others).
Accepting membership in an organization or club requires an accommodation of its rules. If those rules cannot be changed to comply with the wishes of its members, then the members must leave – or be compelled to leave.
Louisville’s clever response to the NCAA will likely result in the reduction of consequences for the program’s failure to comply with clear edicts about impermissible benefits, recruiting, and several failures to monitor whether those rules were being ignored.
That’s the way our world works, and likely the way it always has. Fight and grind – cleverly and with tenacity – until finally your opponent withers or dies.
The NCAA is withering and dying as the organization in charge of Power Five athletic departments. Athletes, administrators, and schools like Louisville might be better off exiting the NCAA to form its own group to oversee operations with rules and practices that better reflect their specific needs.
But they either need to do that or stop crushing the NCAA into submissive pulp.