Crown jewel for Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium already stunning

The 10,000-seat expansion to Cardinal Stadium is  on schedule and under budget, and will be ready for the season opener in 2018 (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Still hard to believe for this long time University of Louisville football fan who dared to dream of UofL someday having its own facility while having his view partially obscured by a steel post at the fairgrounds.

But here we are again, back at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for an update on still another expansion. This one a luxurious state-of-the-art, 10,000-seat addition, which will complete the oval. Raising capacity to 65,000 seats, along with growing expectations for the UofL football program.

Mark Jurich has been responsible for raising funds and overseeing the stadium expansion (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The construction towers over the north end zone, confirming that the latest addition will be the crown jewel, a striking tribute to college football in Louisville. “The magnitude of it is stunning,” said Tom Jurich, standing in front of the massive combination of wood, concrete and steel framework on Thursday.

The Vice President of Athletics confirmed that the project is on time and under budget and will be complete in time for the home opener in 2018.”I don’t think any college in the country can compete with this as far as the uniqueness of it,” he said.

It’s no secret that Tom has delegated most of the responsibility, including the fundraising and construction, of the stadium expansion to his son Mark Jurich, senior associate athletic director.

The younger Jurich said he is excited for UofL fans who will occupy the end zone expansion. “Our fans are going to be right on top, giving our players an atmosphere unlike anything they’ve experienced before,” he said.

“I’m excited to know they participated in this being built, buying seats, buying tickets to see this,” he said. “It is just the next step the football program and the university are taking together.”

These premium seats will have access to two premier gathering areas; the Pepsi Club, which will provide viewing access to the field, and another premium club, which will be similar to AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

All of the concrete work is expected to be complete by this year’s home opener against Clemson on Saturday, Sept. 16th.  Serving notice to the Tigers and the rest of the college football world that the UofL football program intends to be a major player, now and in the future.

 

 

 

Focus on getting back on track at UofL kickoff luncheon

Consensus among UofL football players is to make fans forget about the end of the season collapse last year (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

The Summer of 2017 is winding down, finally coming to an end, and the end can’t get here soon enough if the enthusiasm of University of Louisville football fans is any indication. Approximately 1,600 of them packing the grand ballroom of the Louisville Marriott for the annual Kickoff Luncheon.

Lamar Jackson and Reggie Bonnafon are among the team’s seven captains (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The annual luncheon always a welcome relief for fans, cut off from UofL sports for almost three months, finally getting back together again with their fellow fans. Eager to celebrate UofL again, much in common, enjoying a refuge from the constant attacks, ready to start winning again.

Coach Bobby Petrino saying the Marriott management told him it was the largest crowd for any event ever held at the downtown hotel.

Nobody any happier than Tom Jurich, vice president of athletics, noting, “It’s a great time of year, having all the athletes and teams back. It’s very vibrant around campus, seeing all the students again, the athletes and all the new construction.”

Bobby Petrino wants Lamar Jackson to take advantage of the talent around him this season (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Jurich announced the beginning of a “We The Future” marketing campaign. “You will see that everywhere around campus,” he said. “We as Card Nation have built and built and built, and now we really want to build for the future and look to the future. You’re going to be hearing much more about it.”

The immediate focus, of course, is the future of UofL  football, and the opening game against Purdue at Indianapolis Sept. 2. Quarterback Lamar Jackson recalls how the 2016 season ended and indicated that he’s eager to get UofL football going in the right direction again.

“We have a little chip on our shoulders after losing the last three games last year,” said Quarterback Lamar Jackson. “We’re going to come hard. I’m telling you that right now.”

Coach Petrino said he really likes this team and believes Jackson will have another great year. “The respect that Lamar has from his teammates because of how hard he works makes us all better,” he said.

“He’s going to focus and really concentrate on utilizing the talent around him … His knowledge of the game is unbelievably improving and his ability to read defenses and make checks at the line of scrimmage is something I’m really excited about right now.”

No disagreement between Jurich and Postel on Arena pact

No hint of any differences between Vice President Tom Jurich and Acting President Greg Postel during the special-called meeting of the board of the University of Louisville Athletic Association Thursday morning to discuss the amended KFC Yum! Center financing deal.

Greg Postel says he was keeping Tom Jurich in the loop.

A report from Kent Taylor of WAVE3 the night before suggested that Jurich had not participated in negotiations between UofL and Arena Authority, perhaps signaling a shift in power away from the athletic department. As if Jurich had been an obstacle in the negotiating process.

How that language became a part of Taylor’s report is up for conjecture. This observer believes the logical source would have been Scott Cox, the head of the Arena Authority, who has been chomping at the bit to reach an agreement with UofL. His father was the late Earl Cox, former Courier-Journal editor and he previously worked with Sen. Mitch McConnell so he’s no stranger to the media or the leaking fraternity.

Tom Jurich said he is in support of the amended financing agreement.

Based on Thursday morning’s meeting, it may well be that the administration is teaming up with Jurich, providing him with the full backing of the university. During the session, the ULAA board voted unanimously in support of providing an additional $2.4 million annually to help finance the arena bonds.

Postel said Jurich had been kept abreast of the negotiating process at every step along the way. He noted that the athletic director was briefed on the details Wednesday night after returning to town from a two-week vacation. Jurich, while obviously disappointed that the original financing was inadequate, indicated that he supported the amended agreement with the Arena Authority.

“Tom and I have been talking about this, along with Kevin Miller (senior associate athletic director/finance), since January,” said Postel. “We’ve had many conversations about this topic. There was nothing unusual in this concept that Tom was not aware of. He’s been out of town so I briefed him last night.

“What the ULAA voted to do today we did not have to do. UofL is trying to be a good partner to the community. We are doing this electively because we want to participate. We want to help. The state is contributing more, the city is contributing more so we stepping to be a community partner and to help support this facility.”

Postel said that while he recognizes the additional financial commitment from the athletic department is a strain, it is just one more significant challenge to the school at a crucial time. “We don’t view this as an ‘Us versus Them,’ we’re all UofL.”

Jurich had already departed the building but no serious observer would doubt that he does not subscribe to that conclusion.

Louisville can’t allow NCAA punitive measures to go unchallenged

Rick Pitino has never been one to go down without a fight (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

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.

Rick Pitino says he has lost a lot of respect for the NCAA during the investigation of the program (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

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 President Greg Postel promised a vigorous appeal of the NCAA action (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

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 has taken University of Louisville athletics to new heights during his 17 year tenure (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

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.

Keep Papa John under control at UofL board meetings

John Schnatter went a couple of hours without saying a word, at least during the public portion of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees meeting this week. Not easy for someone accustomed to being treated as near royalty in his hometown. 

And it was quite a contrast from a week before when he exhibited little self control, ranting about the UofL athletic department and another expansion of Cardinal Stadium. 

One wonders why Schnatter had reason to be upset? The athletic department has bent over backward to keep the Pizza magnate happy. Setting aside a special place for him to land his helicopter during football games at Cardinal Stadium. Allowing him to race his 1971 Camaro into the complex, wheels spinning, burning rubber. The football program also allowing him to completely cover the roof of the Brown & Williamson Club with the Papa John’s logo.

Interim President Greg Postel and Chairman David Grissom have their hands full already, even without John Schnatter’s antics.

Schnatter’s demeanor during the recent board meeting makes one suspect that someone may have finally denied him one of his outlandish wishes. Some sources believe his antagonism could date back to the second phase of the stadium expansion, possibly some special concessions on the party deck. 

Schnatter’s ego apparently knows no bounds. Would anyone be surprised if his next big request had been a sculpture of Papa John on the party deck? Making a special delivery no doubt. Not out of the question. He lives in a virtual castle and he referred to the football facility as “My stadium” during the board meeting. 

The strained look on his face during the trustees’ meeting made it appear as though he had been asked to remain quiet. This at a time when the University of Louisville is in need of positive reinforcement and constructive leadership. Had to be really difficult for him to hear Interim President Greg Postel describe Tom Jurich’s great success with the athletic program and assurance that the stadium expansion is well within budget.

Someone had obviously gotten to Schnatter, letting him know that his ranting was out of line, making him look foolish, embarrassing his fellow board members. This coming a day before it was announced that Schnatter had resigned from the board of the UofL Athletic Association and had been immediately replaced by university trustee James Rogers.

A long-time member of the University community, who wishes to remain unnamed, sees the fine hand of Trustees’ Chairman J. David Grissom at work in Schnatter’s resignation.

“It is not Schnatter’s style to resign for the good of the organization,” said the source. “My guess is that Grissom took him off the board because Schnatter is unpredictable in his rhetoric. Why else would another board appointment be made so quickly?

“This may have been one reason for the closed session at the Trustees’ meeting. Grissom does not want the wrath of Tom Jurich’s many supporters. Running Tom off would be the biggest mistake made by anyone. 

“Grissom also will not tolerate any trustee speaking to the media without his approval. Remember Schnatter’s parting comment on Wednesday, words to the effect that Grissom has it under control.”

Presumably that means Grissom will not tolerate any misdirection or outbursts at future Trustee meetings, especially from John Schnatter.