If not Louisville, then who?

Car­di­nals de­serve to get NCAA death penalty in scan­dal

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FOOTBALL -

The words “Louisville” and “death penalty” have be­come in­sep­a­ra­ble over the past week.

If any school in the coun­try de­serves to have one of its sports teams shut down for at least a year, it’s the Univer­sity of Louisville. Con­sider it a kind of life­time achieve­ment award for the egre­gious and on­go­ing trans­gres­sions of its men’s bas­ket­ball pro­gram un­der the leg­endary and no­to­ri­ous Rick Pitino.

That’s what should hap­pen af­ter the bomb­shell news last week that Louisville has been en­snared in the FBI’s crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into il­le­gal pay­ments to re­cruits. The NCAA should close down Louisville’s vaunted bas­ket­ball pro­gram for a year or two and hob­ble it for a few more.

Louisville de­serves noth­ing less than to have to start from scratch. Pitino’s be­hav­ior there has been breath­tak­ing for years, since he had an af­fair with the wife of the team’s equip­ment man­ager and paid for her to have an abor­tion. He then later over­saw a pro­gram that was pro­vid­ing strip­pers and pros­ti­tutes to play­ers and re­cruits in a cam­pus dorm, re­sult­ing in NCAA pro­ba­tion.

pros­ti­tutes to play­ers and re­cruits in a cam­pus dorm, re­sult­ing in NCAA pro­ba­tion.

Nei­ther of these were firable of­fenses in the le­nient mind of ath­let­ics di­rec­tor Tom Jurich, but now that the FBI and Depart­ment of Jus­tice are in­volved, both men thank­fully are gone from col­lege sports, hope­fully for­ever.

As the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues, at some point, the NCAA will reach its mo­ment of truth. Does it have the nerve to do what it should do? And if it does, will who­ever is left in charge at Louisville fight the penal­ties, as the so-called aca­demic lead­ers at the Univer­sity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have done so suc­cess­fully so far over the damn­ing al­le­ga­tions against their men’s bas­ket­ball pro­gram?

We might think these are ques­tions just for the NCAA and Louisville, but they’re also ques­tions for us. This new col­lege bas­ket­ball scan­dal might well end up be­ing the worst in col­lege sports, or per­haps sec­ond-worst be­hind the hor­ror of what Jerry San­dusky did at Penn State, which sur­faced nearly six years ago.

So, what is it, Amer­i­can sports fans: Are col­lege sports about more than sports? Or do they ex­ist sim­ply to en­ter­tain the masses? If it’s the lat­ter, does any of this ei­ther sur­prise or bother you? If men’s hoops are here purely for en­ter­tain­ment, for March Mad­ness and our of­fice pools, do we re­ally care if Adi­das and per­haps other shoe com­pa­nies are pay­ing prospec­tive col­lege ath­letes and their fam­i­lies?

Fly­ing home from the BCS col­lege foot­ball na­tional cham­pi­onship game in 2011, I sat next to a woman decked out in Auburn gear from head to toe, still cel­e­brat­ing her school’s na­tional ti­tle. She was smart and forth­com­ing, so I thought I’d ask her if the months-long con­tro­versy over Cam New­ton’s re­cruit­ment and sub­se­quent ques­tions about his el­i­gi­bil­ity both­ered her? “No, not re­ally,” she said. “So if you have to va­cate the ti­tle some­day …”

“That’s okay,” she said plainly. “We know we won it on the field.”

I imag­ine many of you would say the same thing about your alma mater. I cer­tainly wouldn’t say that about mine, but I’m guess­ing I’m in the mi­nor­ity on this, per­haps a very small mi­nor­ity.

Look at how the Penn State faith­ful, good solid cit­i­zens that most are, kicked and screamed over talk of shut­ting down their pro­gram af­ter the San­dusky scan­dal, which took root and blos­somed right in the mid­dle of Joe Paterno’s foot­ball pro­gram. Penn State fans knew what hap­pened was ter­ri­ble but they couldn’t fathom giv­ing up their foot­ball, and the NCAA caved in and al­lowed them to keep it.

As a sports na­tion, we have no shame. We’ve be­come un-em­bar­rass­able.

So per­haps the only way to re­ally pun­ish a school like Louisville is to also pun­ish its fans and donors by tak­ing away what they love for a year or two. We wring our hands and say we can’t do this, that we’re hurt­ing too many in­no­cent peo­ple in the process.

That’s non­sense. Sure we can do this. It’s all about an­swer­ing a sim­ple ques­tion:

Do we stand for some­thing, or do we not?

JAMIE RHODES, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Louisville men’s bas­ket­ball coach Rick Pitino talks with his team dur­ing a time­out last sea­son.

Chris­tine Bren­nan

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