Padanilam: Louisville ban is misplaced
Benjamin Padanilam | Tuesday, February 9, 2016
In a week filled with Super Bowl coverage, one shocking story in college sports didn’t get the press that it deserved.
On Friday, the Louisville men’s basketball program instituted a self-imposed ban from postseason play this season. This is amid allegations that Andre McGee, a former men’s basketball staffer at the school, hired a former escort, Katina Powell, to bring dancers to strip and have sex with recruits and players at an on-campus dorm.
Certainly a self-imposed postseason ban is not unprecedented. We saw it last year with Syracuse, who did so amid accusations of academic misconduct within the program. The hope with these self-imposed bans is that the NCAA will see these preemptive moves as sufficient, or at least restrain it from levying further bans which would affect future regular and postseason play — such was the case for SMU’s ban for this postseason — and discourage future recruits from decommitting.
But this case is different.
Syracuse’s self-imposed ban occurred within what was essentially a lost season for the storied program. They were in no position to qualify for the NCAA tournament, ensuring that imposing a postseason was nothing but an empty gesture or threatening words that carried no sting.
This season’s Louisville team, however, had national championship aspirations. Following a win over then-No. 2 North Carolina, the Cardinals were 18-4 prior to Friday’s announcement. In a season defined by an unusual degree of parity, the Cardinals were right in the thick of the championship race, with that win over the Tar Heels to demonstrate as much.
And it was at this moment the school decided to essentially bring an end to the team’s season.
I’m not here to say that the program doesn’t deserve sanctions as harsh as a postseason ban. If these allegations are true, then the program deserves far more than it has handed to itself.
And that’s why I believe the worst is yet to come.
There is only one reason Louisville athletic director Tom Zurich would make this decision during this season of all seasons. There is only one reason school president Dr. James Ramsey would sign off on such a decision. There is only one reason Louisville wouldn’t continue to fight these shocking allegations until the very end.
That reason is that, despite all of head coach Rick Pitino’s grumblings to the contrary, Powell’s accusations are credible enough for the NCAA to believe them. This decision is the school’s way of entering a plea of guilty and hoping the NCAA finds its self-imposed punishments as sufficient.
And I hope it doesn’t.
If the school is actually guilty of the actions Powell accuses them of, then even a ban that has much of an impact as this one does isn’t enough to clean the slate. Pitino said Saturday he thought any punishment levied against the program should be financial in nature. But even that isn’t enough.
The actions the program is accused of are reprehensible. A message needs to be sent to the program. Punishing the kids on this team during a season they have worked this hard for simply to avoid losing scholarships and recruits isn’t fair to the players, especially when the core of the team is a pair of fifth-year, graduate transfers who only wanted to have a taste of the NCAA tournament in their final season of eligibility. The program should be held accountable for its actions, not this particular team. The school has turned them into the scapegoats for what it allowed to happen in the past, taking away their season to save the future.
But it is exactly the future that needs to be hit hardest. The allegation is that the program allowed dancers to have sex with recruits during the recruitment process. So why shouldn’t recruitment be what takes the bulk of the damage of sanctions? That might not be what the program wants, but it’s what it deserves.
The NCAA needs to send a message that this isn’t acceptable, and the school shouldn’t be allowed to circumvent that.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.