Louisville must vacate its 2013 national championship, but the punishment is not impactful and the school should have realized its other issues before the ruling was even enacted.

By Andy Staples
February 20, 2018

Louisville’s 2013 national championship banner has descended from the rafters of the YUM! Center.

Banners have come down before, as a coach who works about 80 miles away in Lexington can attest. But no banner of this magnitude had been stripped until an NCAA appeals committee announced Tuesday that it would uphold the penalties handed down by the Committee on Infractions last June. Along with a pu pu platter of sanctions the Cardinals imposed on themselves as a result of the Katina Powell affair, Louisville must vacate the results of games played between December 2010 and the end of the 2014 season and must pay back NCAA tournament units that could total about $600,000. The vacation of those wins means the banner must go.

Maybe they should have played this as it fell to the floor.

The cheesiest of all the strip club anthems is the perfect soundtrack for the final scene of a case that began with the hiring of strippers and ended with one of the dumbest school responses to an NCAA ruling in recent memory. Let’s review:

October 2015: Powell, a former escort, releases a book called Breaking Cardinal Rules in which she details parties for recruits involving strippers who danced for and/or performed sex acts on Louisville basketball recruits. Powell claimed former Louisville staffer Andre McGee paid for the dancers/hookers.

November 2015: Powell’s lawyer confirms to the Louisville Courier-Journal that she will speak to the NCAA, which frowns on hiring strippers and/or hookers for recruits.

January 2016: Then-Louisville coach Rick Pitino declares in a press conference that McGee might have done some “scurrilous things,” which is not the title of new Netflix series but should be.

February 2016: After an internal investigation, Louisville bans its team from the 2016 NCAA tournament.

April 2016: Louisville self-imposes recruiting and scholarship sanctions.

October 2016: The NCAA delivers a notice of allegations claiming McGee provided impermissible inducements and extra benefits to at least 17 Louisville recruits or Louisville athletes. McGee, who left Louisville in 2014 to become an assistant coach at Missouri-Kansas City, is accused of violating the NCAA’s ethical conduct policy for not cooperating with the investigation. Former staffer Brandon Williams is accused of the same thing for failing to turn over requested phone records. The NCAA also accused Pitino of failure to monitor.

January 2017: Louisville responds to the Notice of Allegations, claiming McGee essentially acted alone—even after he left the program.

April 2017: The NCAA’s committee on infractions hears Louisville’s case.

June 2017: The COI issues its ruling. It accepts the self-imposed sanctions and tacks on the vacation of wins as well as a five-game suspension for Pitino.

August 2017: Louisville appeals, calling the penalty “Draconian,” even though nearly every case involving players deemed ineligible for taking extra benefits ends with the vacation of wins. Lawyers are paid for a hopeless cause.

February 2018: The appeals committee reads Louisville’s response, which cost a fortune in billable hours, and shrugs.

You’ll notice that some fairly significant events aren’t listed here. In September of last year, the FBI made several arrests in a sting operation involving college basketball. The information released about the case included details that suggested the FBI had evidence that someone at Louisville and someone at Adidas—which gives money to Louisville’s athletic department to outfit the Cardinals—paid someone in the family of basketball signee Brian Bowen. Pitino, who Louisville had gone to great lengths to protect in the stripper case, was fired for cause. So was athletic director Tom Jurich.

At this point, Louisville officials could have realized they had much bigger problems and dropped the appeal, which they should have known wasn’t going to work. Instead, they kept going. They also began to haggle with representatives for Pitino and Jurich, who plan to fight for the significant buyouts—Pitino’s is $44 million—Louisville doesn’t intend to pay. Last month, a private investigator hired by a law firm representing Louisville had the novel idea to try to dig up dirt on Jurich by e-mailing Courier-Journal columnist Tim Sullivan and—wait for it—asking if he had any dirt on Jurich that he was willing to share. Sullivan politely informed the investigator that any such dirt would be published in the paper and promptly wrote a story about the dirt-digging expedition since an unsolicited e-mail to a reporter is about as on-the-record as it gets.

Apparently, the people in charge at Louisville thought that wasn’t embarrassing enough. Tuesday, they issued a press release touting a major announcement at 12:05 p.m. The announcement, of course, was that the appeal had been denied. Interim president Greg Postel wrote in a press release how wrong the NCAA was for daring to uphold the penalties the COI handed down after the Cardinals were caught buying strippers and/or hookers for recruits. That press release would have sufficed. Instead, Louisville got everyone hot and bothered with the mysterious press conference announcement and increased the coverage of this completely unsurprising news by a factor of 10.

There are times in life when the best move is to take the L quietly and move on. This was one of them. It may be embarrassing to remove the banner, but it isn’t a meaningful penalty in any way. Want to know why? Watch this:

Louisville’s Shining Moment isn’t going anywhere. (Unless CBS files a DMCA takedown notice for infringing on its copyright.) We still all saw the games. We all know who won. Pitino’s tattoo won’t disappear from his shoulder blade. At last check, the players still had their rings.

Predictably, there were complaints Tuesday because Louisville had to take down its banner while North Carolina’s from 2005 proudly flaps inside the Dean Smith Center. The NCAA spent years investigating fake classes at North Carolina that helped athletes stay eligible through the years, but the COI announced last year it could not punish the Tar Heels. The reason? The NCAA has no rules that fit that situation. The enforcement staff had tried to say that the fake classes were extra benefits only available to the athletes. But since the classes had been available to the entire student body, they couldn’t possibly fit that definition. The COI had no choice, because penalties would have brought a lawsuit from North Carolina that North Carolina probably would have won.

There’s a lesson here, Louisville. Next time, take the money you would have wasted on billable hours for an appeal and buy strippers for all your students. That way, the athletes won’t be receiving an extra benefit. The banners you have yet to win will never come down.

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