Not quite the happy or carefree summer that it should have been this year, not with that nasty NCAA threat hanging over the University of Louisville basketball program.
Not going away, always there, with reportedly little chance of overturning a decision that would cost UofL tens of millions of dollars and dozens of wins, including a third national championship.
In its long history, the NCAA has never learned how to impose penalties without harming the innocent, incapable of conceiving ways to punish or expose the actual perpetrators. Instead, taking the easy way out, choosing to recklessly impugn the reputations of the institution, the coaches, the players and fans.
The best part of the ordeal, hopefully, when combined with the challenges on the administrative side, is that the shared experience will make fans even more supportive of their university. It have never been easy being a UofL fan in Kentucky, but that has never prevented the University from achieving great things.
When will the nightmares end, the ongoing fallout from the incessant body blows the University of Louisville has absorbed over the last couple of years? Not anytime soon obviously, with protracted dramas continuing to inflict ugly wounds, scarring the University’s reputation and the psyche of the UofL faithful.
The most encouraging thing during these dreary times is that UofL has built an intensely loyal group of partisans. Emerging over the past two decades from the shadow of the University of Kentucky to dominance in the state’s most prominent community. A base of supporters proud of Louisville’s accomplishments before all hell broke loose, wanting the dark clouds to dissipate.
Making that happen will require an aggressive approach to problem-solving, to establish a new vision for UofL. If anything has been confirmed during these ongoing ordeals, the University is about much more than athletics. UofL’s role in academics, research, health care and so many other facets of the community cannot be overstated.
Who would have believed a five years ago:
–That a President who had transformed the campus would be forced to resign, his management style the target of a forensic audit. A Board of Trustees in disarray, so dysfunctional that the entire board would be replaced. The school’s endowment, once prompting a campus-wide celebration for reaching the $1 billion mark, is now only valued at $714 million.
–That a basketball program, so free of suspicion and recruiting violations during Rick Pitino’s tenure, would be sabotaged by a former player, bringing scandal and embarrassment to his former coaches and players. Dragging UofL’s name through the mud, hiding behind a lawyer, refusing to answer questions, apologizing to no one, protecting his own ass.
–That a group of adults on the NCAA Committee on Infractions would give more credence to the words of a prostitute than the testimony of UofL administrators. Dismissing the University’s self-imposed, post-season ban as insignificant, ignoring the coach’s record of compliance. Too cowardly to take away a national championship, forcing University administrators to do it to themselves.
The board has been busy making budget cuts, cutting out frills, and tightening financial belts, but there has been little public discussion about future direction.
One could go on. The University of Louisville has had more than its share of adversity. Some of it self-inflicted, possibly mismanagement, possibly overly creative approaches to advancing the University’s goals, overly generous rewards to those making some advances possible. Further harm coming from an inability to interact effectively with the media, damaging the perception and credibility of some former UofL administrators.
The University clearly has made great strides over the last decade and a half, clearly becoming one of the most powerful institutions in the community, if not the state, earning the admiration and loyalties of its supporters, alumni and fans. At the same time, however, creating antagonism among some affluent individuals in the community, as well as key politicians in Frankfort, some resenting the school’s growth, feeling threatened, either personally or for their alma mater.
A former UofL board member has told this writer that former Governor Steve Beshear asked for his help in dismantling the UofL Foundation, wanting to fold it into the University, making it subject to political appointments. Beshear’s last several appointments to the UofL Board of Trustees included people clearly motivated to make life difficult for then UofL President Jim Ramsey.
Also, there was considerable resentment from some developers in local construction circles, some arguing that UofL enjoyed unfair competitive advantages in real estate investments. Among them was a developer successful in getting the city to locate a new basketball arena on an expensive piece of property downtown. He would take some parting shots at Ramsey before leaving town.
Some would argue that local media have become overly aggressive and antagonistic. That UofL news has high readership and viewership, especially if negative, in a community where more than 30 percent of the populace pledges allegiance to a rival university.
Difficult for alumni and fans of some other schools to acknowledge what UofL has accomplished, some actually wanting to destroy what the school has achieved, perhaps thinking Louisville’s success is their misfortune. Rather than trying to understand how UofL succeeded, they fail to see how their favored school could improve by healthy competition.
Succeeding despite all these obstacles is going to require the continued loyalty of UofL supporters. A handful of fans have suggested they’ve had enough of the turmoil, others suggesting that the University owes them something. As if University employees are not besieged or worthy of their support during a dark period for the school. If ever there was a time for alumni and fans to support the school, it is now.
Putting the turmoil in the past also is going to require persistence and leadership from the Board of Trustees headed by David Grissom. The community has yet to hear anything from Grissom about his motivations in assuming the board leadership. Just a few random quotes here and there during board meetings. He has yet to effectively communicate his aspirations for the University. That alone could be a giant step forward in restoring confidence in the school’s future.
There has been little indication from Grissom about the University’s future. The board has been busy making budget cuts, cutting out frills, and tightening financial belts, but there has been little public discussion about future direction. No indication of a Presidential Search Committee, leaving supporters to guess about whether Acting President Dr. Greg Postel is the future or just a go-between.
The community, including the UofL staff, faculty, alumni, fans, and other supporters, needs to know what the Board wants to achieve. Yes, there are plenty of problems and challenges but what’s the ultimate goal? There have to be long-term objectives behind which UofL supporters can rally.
If it’s returning UofL to its upward trajectory, then say so. Reinforce the goal that the University of Louisville can be a preeminent research university. That UofL will not stop the decline in the endowment but that the school will aggressively continue to pursue donations, that it will set new all-time highs in contributions and in the endowment fund.
Say something, anything. UofL’s many supporters need and deserve to be reminded that the benefits of accomplishing some very challenging objectives will dramatically outweigh all the negativity that currently exists. All we’re hearing right now is a continuous unraveling of all the recent failings.
Time to look forward, time to get moving. There will always be detractors during times of success or failure. The University of Louisville, however, is deeply ingrained in the lifeblood of this community and the support will always be there.
One will not find Sam Bordner in any listings of 2017 All-America baseball teams. Nor on any All-Atlantic Coast Conference teams either. Not even honorable mention in either of those groupings.
But Dan McDonnell knows where to locate Bordner when one of his starting pitchers is tiring. He will find the 6-foot-6, 240-pound sophomore in the University of Louisville bullpen, cool, calm, collected, ready to go.
As in UofL’s opening game in the College World Series on Sunday. Starter Brendan McKay had given up three straight hits, Texas A&M cutting Louisville’s lead to 5-4 in the sixth inning. Bordner will do what he usually does, shutting down the next three Aggie batters 1-2-3.
Over the next two innings he will hold A&M hitless, not allowing anyone on base. Handing the ball off to Lincoln Henzman in the ninth inning. Louisville will win its opening game 8-4, ending a five-game losing streak in the CWS.
“I think Sam’s been the X factor, a little under the radar,” McDonnell said after the game. “When you’re in that first out-of-the-bullpen or middle relief role, it’s just not as sexy, and you don’t get as much attention. But clearly Sam’s been hot all year.”
The Cardinals (53-10) had used six singles and a walk to build a 5-0 lead in the second inning, with Devin Hairston, Collin Lyman and Colby Fitch contributing run-scoring singles. Fitch winding up with two hits, a walk and four runs batted in.
The University of Louisville is the first school ever to have student athletes to win both of the top individual awards in college football and baseball.
Brendan McKay on Friday became the 31st recipient of the prestigious Dick Howser Trophy, presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate baseball player. He joins Lamar Jackson in some very select company, Jackson having been awarded the Heisman Trophy for the country’s best football player.
The Dick Howser Trophy was awarded Friday by the Howser Trophy committee and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association during ceremonies at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, home of the College World Series.
The latest honor is the fifth national player of the year for McKay, who received the same honor from Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball newspaper, D1Baseball and Perfect Game. He also earned his third straight John Olerud Two-Way National Player of the Year Award and became the highest MLB Draft selection in school history going fourth overall to the Tampa Bay Rays.
He is also a leading candidate for the The Golden Spikes Award award, created by USA Baseball and sponsored by the Major League Baseball Players Association for best player honors.
McKay has a 10-3 record with a 2.34 ERA and a school record 140 strikeouts in 104.0 innings on the mound this season. During his three-year collegiate career, McKay has accumulated a 31-10 record with a 2.15 ERA and 385 strikeouts, the most ever for a Louisville pitcher.
At the plate, the 2017 ACC Player of the Year has a .343 batting average, 17 home runs, 13 doubles, 56 RBIs and a .464 on-base percentage in 60 starts as a hitter this season. In 179 career starts and 186 total appearances as a hitter, McKay has a .328 career batting average with 27 home runs, 46 doubles and 131 RBIs.
Those stats could be even more impressive with a good run in the College World Series.
So much for the University of Louisville being repentant, trying to cooperate with the NCAA and imposing harsh self-punishment on the UofL basketball program. It obviously does not pay to not challenge the NCAA every step of the way on alleged violations.
Nothing UofL could have said or did would have placated the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The committee gave little credence to any actions taken by the school to show contrition. The members were apparently determined from the beginning to administer the harshest punishment possible to the basketball program.
In essence, the committee members were saying to the University of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino that they didn’t believe him, that he was aware of the violations, that he allowed them to continue, and that he was personally culpable for Andre McGee’s actions.
They also were throwing the middle finger to Acting UofL President Greg Poster, Vice President of Athletics Tom Jurich, and all University of Louisville basketball fans. As if these individuals condoned what went on in the early morning hours at Billy Minardi Hall, as if they were not embarrassed, sickened and disgusted by the activities. As if they were all equally to blame for the abhorrent behavior.
The committee chair was angry at Andre McGee for not cooperating so they took it out on everybody else associated with the program. My, how the actions of one or couple of individuals can affect not only a basketball program, but the people who entrusted them and thousands of fans wanting only the right things for their university.
Perhaps even worse is to be judged by a panel of individuals sitting in judgement who appear to have ignored all the steps taken by the university to get to the facts. So appalled by the societal issues that they never get past their initial reactions, making them collectively impotent, incapable of rendering a fair or appropriate decision.
“The penalty far exceeded our expectation,” said Chuck Smrt, a UofL consultant and former NCAA investigator. “The severity of the penalties exceeds the severity of this case.”
The proposed punishment was drawn up by a subcommittee of seven members of the Committee on Infractions. Few, if any, people outside that small group know how the process worked. The guess here is that Carol Cartwright, former President of Bowling Green University and Kent State, drafted the recommendations and they were rubber-stamped by the other members. No one outside the small group apparently questioned whether the punishment fit the crime.
Acting UofL President Greg Postel said the NCAA action will be vigorously appealed. “We believe the penalties imposed today are unfair to the UofL community and our current and former student-athletes, many of whom have already paid a heavy price for actions that did not involve them,” he said. “This ruling is also unfair to Coach Pitino, who we believe could not have known about the illicit activities.
Rick Pitino was understandably shocked by the severity of the proposed penalties. “For 35 years I’ve had faith in the NCAA, but in the recent past, they have made some decisions that are unjust,” he said. “I’ve lost a lot of trust and I’m going to put all my faith and beliefs in the appeals committee. What’s in this report (from the Committee on Infractions) is way over the top and inconceivable. We believe we will win the appeal.”
Tom Jurich, who has taken the UofL athletic program to new levels during his tenure, was obviously still numb an hour after the penalties were announced. Anyone who has accompanied him on this journey had to empathize with him, knowing how open and honest he is, how effective he has been, with UofL enjoying unprecedented success and growth in all 22 sports across the department.
Sadly, only to have Louisville basketball embarrassed by an irresponsible former player and have an out-of-touch NCAA committee attempt to erase the program’s crowning moments.
* * *
The seven members of the Committee on Infractions subcommittee, which recommended the penalties on the UofL basketball program, were:
–Chairperson Dr. Carol Cartwright, former President of Bowling Green State University and Kent State University.
–William Bock III, attorney with Kroger, Gardis & Regas. an Indianapolis, Indiana law firm, and a graduate of Michigan.
–Greg Christopher, athletic director, Xavier University.
–Thomas Hill, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, Iowa State University.
–Stephen Madva, attorney and managing partner, Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, in Philadelphia.
–Joe Novak, former head football coach, Northern Illinois University.
–Larry Parkinson, Director of Enforcement, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Fortunately for everyone affected, the appeals process goes through another committee.