The No. 13 Louisville men’s basketball team (19-4, 8-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) self-imposed a ban for tournament play for this upcoming postseason Friday afternoon. The news comes with only eight games left in the regular season. Every college athlete’s career passes in the blink of an eye, with only so many opportunities to win championships and create memories. The players of Louisville have now lost the opportunity to play for the national championship, which is not only heartbreaking but also unjust.
The self-imposed ban comes as a result of recruiting violations that Louisville allegedly committed between 2010 and 2014. The accusations come from self-described former escort Katina Powell, who claims that she and others were paid to have sex with recruits. This type of action from a university is inexcusable, and firing Head Coach Rick Pitino and Athletic Director Tom Jurich would seem appropriate. Yet both men still hold their positions, with no consequences for their deplorable actions. Even if Pitino and Jurich were not the ones who set the recruits up with the escorts, it is difficult to believe that both the coach and athletic director had no knowledge of the illegal activities involving their future Louisville athletes.
More often than not, people forget that college athletes are students. Even more frequently, we forget that these athletes are humans. Louisville made this decision with no regard for any of the players on their roster. They made a decision that diminishes the hard work and effort it took for the team to start the season 18-4.
It is clear that Louisville President James Ramsey, Jurich and Pitino only cared about the impact a postseason ban next year would have on the program. Pitino completely turned his back on his two fifth-year seniors. Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, graduates of Drexel and Cleveland State, respectively, transferred to Louisville over other prestigious basketball programs with the hopes of winning a national championship. Now neither will get that opportunity.
The worst part is that it appears that Pitino will remain the head coach of the Cardinals. Under Pitino’s watch, a multitude of players have supposedly been allowed to engage in illegal activities. If the NCAA had any gall, it would ban Pitino from coaching.
The NCAA’s obsession with money drives many coaches to break the rules and, in this instance, the law. The avarice displayed by these institutions muddles the purpose of college athletics. The purpose of a college basketball program is not to generate money for the school, but to provide star athletes with the opportunity to pursue their dream of playing basketball professionally while also receiving an education. Recruiting should be clean, but we often see coaches involved in these scandals because winning seems to mean more to them than the development of young men as students and as athletes.
I hope that the Louisville administrators who made this decision go to sleep every night happy with their choice. I hope they think about how they chose the university’s brand over the players who helped build that brand. I hope they are happy that when they watch every game for the rest of the season, they will see Pitino, a man who used sex to pitch their university to recruits, pacing up the sidelines. I hope they enjoy watching Lee and Lewis play their hearts out for a university who denied them their dream.
The major problem in all of this is that the punishment may cost the institution millions, but the real victims are the players on the Louisville roster, most of whom did not partake in any of the alleged activities that led to this investigation. None of the people who may have permitted these recruiting violations will receive any punishment. The NCAA needs to take a hard look in the mirror and overhaul the flawed system in place.
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