Wiedmer: Is Louisville's 2013 NCAA title in real jeopardy?

Wiedmer: Is Louisville's 2013 NCAA title in real jeopardy?

June 16th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino speaks during an NCAA college basketball news conference Thursday, June 15, 2017, in Louisville, Ky. The NCAA suspended Pitino on Thursday for five ACC games following sex scandal investigation. A former men's basketball staffer is alleged to have hired strippers to entertain players and recruits. (Pat McDonogh/The Courier-Journal via AP)

Photo by Pat McDonogh

The Louisville bench celebrates during the first half of a second-round game against Michigan in the mens NCAA college basketball tournament in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The Louisville bench celebrates during the first half...

Photo by Michael Conroy

Mark Wiedmer

Mark Wiedmer

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Are you a parent of a teenaged boy? Is that young man a promising athlete, perhaps one day worthy of earning an athletic scholarship to a major university in either of the glamour sports — basketball or football?

How do you think you'd feel if your son came home from a recruiting trip to Big State U. with stories of being entertained by a prostitute during his time there?

Wouldn't you be a wee bit upset? Might you want that program shut down for a lengthy period of time, or at least buried under a mountain of penalties by the NCAA?

You bet you would. At least you should. And the NCAA apparently felt exactly the same way Thursday when announcing its proposed sanctions regarding the University of Louisville basketball program for its alleged use of prostitutes and strippers in its basketball dorm while hosting recruits.

Though the Cards brass has announced it will appeal the penalties, the Infractions Committee hit Louisville with everything from suspending Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino for the first five Atlantic Coast Conference contests of the 2017-18 season, to placing the program on probation for four years, to scholarship reductions, to recruiting restrictions, to forfeiture of money received through conference revenue sharing from the 2012-2015 NCAA tournaments.

But it's what could happen to Louisville's 2013 national championship that could leave the most lasting, painful mark.

Chuck Smrt — once the NCAA's director of enforcement and currently the leader of the school's defense against these charges — said of that last possibility, the forfeiture of games (dependent on which ones ineligible players took part in), "We believe it could impact 108 regular-season games and 15 NCAA (tournament) wins. We think that's excessive."

And perhaps it is. Especially since the Cards voluntarily sat out the 2016 NCAA tourney — despite having a potential Final Four team — in hopes of delivering a preemptive strike against stiffer sanctions.

Beyond that, had these violations come to light while these former players branded ineligible still had eligibility remaining, they almost certainly could have served a suspension far shorter than a year and been back on the roster in good standing by the time March Madness rolled around.

Nevertheless, unless Louisville can win its appeal or at least a portion of it, it would seem this might become the first college basketball team to have a championship vacated. Other programs have had Final Four appearances vacated — most recently Memphis in 2008 for playing an academically ineligible Derrick Rose — but no champion has ever been stripped of its crown.

Then again, there's never been a case quite like this one. Never before has an assistant coach — in this case, former director of basketball operations Andre McGee — been accused not only of using prostitutes and strippers to lure recruits, but doing so inside a campus dormitory.

Pitino insists he never knew anything about this until the boss of these young ladies of ill repute, Katina Powell, penned the book "Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen," in 2015.

And maybe he didn't, though some would say not knowing of such sordidness would be almost as bad as knowing and doing nothing.

Regardless, the Infractions Committee ruled Slick Rick "violated NCAA head coach responsibility rules." It also stated, "Without dispute, NCAA rules do not allow institutional staff members to arrange for stripteases and sex acts for prospects, enrolled student-athletes and/or those who accompany them to campus."

And that's a good thing. This should never happen again. Whatever you think of prostitution, these aren't mature adults. These are still kids, whatever their age. Beyond that, no institution of higher learning should be engaged in such behavior. Ever.

Of course, one could also argue that no institution of higher learning, especially one as esteemed as North Carolina, should get to hold on to its 2005 NCAA title if it used players in that Final Four who would have been academically ineligible without pumped-up grades from its bogus African-American studies major.

Maybe the Tar Heels are more nervous today than they were Wednesday and maybe not, but if there is justice, they should be, because one could certainly argue that academic fraud is more damaging to the integrity of college athletics than Louisville's lamentable behavior.

That both programs's head coaches — Pitino and UNC's Roy Williams — have often appeared so defiant only makes it worse.

Said an angry Pitino of these charges, "What went on (the NCAA's ruling) was unjust, inconceivable."

But surely no more inconceivable to any parent than finding out his or her child spent his recruiting trip being entertained by a prostitute while visiting a program run by a Hall of Fame coach.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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