In roughly 48 hours, the final football game of the season will kick off, meaning we are just one weekend away from basketball becoming the focus of every sports fan in the country.
We are just 37 days from Selection Sunday. In less than six weeks, the NCAA tournament will kick off.
And it was today that Louisville decided to tell their players that they will not be allowed to participate in the postseason.
No ACC tournament for you, Damion Lee. No NCAA tournament for you, Trey Lewis.
Lee and Lewis are the two grad transfers that the Cardinals added during the offseason, the two fifth-year seniors that made the decision to enroll at Louisville because they wanted an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament, an opportunity that they were never guaranteed to get at Drexel and Cleveland State, respectively.
And because of allegations and evidence that a former Louisville staffer named Andre McGee solicited prostitutes for recruits, beginning before Lee and Lewis were even college students, that opportunity is being ripped away from them.
After Louisville fans packed the Yum! Center for the last two and a half months to support a fun, likeable and top 20 basketball team. A team that, at 18-4, is currently sitting in second place in the ACC and, until this morning, was eyeing a deep run into March.
It’s despicable, just like it was despicable for SMU to be banned from the postseason three days before the season started and just like it was despicable for Syracuse to implement a self-imposed postseason ban exactly one year ago today.
But I’m not sure the full weight of the blame can be put on Louisville here, either.
Tom Jurich is in charge of the Louisville basketball program. James Ramsey is in charge of the entire university, and the decision that Ramsey made to withdraw from this year’s postseason is unequivocally in the best interest of the Louisville basketball program and, as a result, the school as a whole. Their job isn’t to care about the feelings of a couple of redshirt seniors. Their job is to make sure that he minimizes the financial hit that the program takes. Their job is to limit how sullied the Louisville brand will be.
They are, quite literally, doing their job.
The issue is that the NCAA allows this to happen. Hell, they impose the bans themselves. That postseason ban that SMU got? It came from the NCAA.
That’s what needs to change here.
The NCAA has to put an end to enforcing postseason bans if the ruling comes at a time where the players — the ones who get hit the hardest for, quite often, something they had nothing to do with — are not able to leave without consequence. When UConn was banned from the 2012 postseason, the players on the team were made aware well in advance. Alex Oriakhi was able to transfer to Missouri without sitting out a season. Roscoe Smith took off for UNLV. The guys that stayed behind, the recruits that joined the program, did so knowing that they would not be playing in the postseason.
SMU got their ruling when it was too late for the players on that roster to transfer, for the freshman that joined the program to do so knowing they would not be tourney-bound their first season.
The entire point of the NCAA handing down sanctions is to punish the program for allowing these violations to be committed. But by accepting a self-imposed postseason ban in February, by imposing a postseason ban as late as the end of September, they are unquestionably minimizing the impact that the programs feel.
And I don’t care about the accusations that have been levied against the Cardinals, at least not in the context of this conversation. So please, don’t try and tell me why what Louisville did was wrong.
Want me to say it?
Here: What Louisville did was wrong. What McGee did was wrong. Pitino may not have had any direct association with what was happening in Billy Minardi Hall, but by the letter of the NCAA rulebook, ignorance is not an excuse. Pitino was in the wrong.
But the issue isn’t what Louisville was doing. The issue is whether it should be allowed for them to force a group of players that had nothing to do with the violations to bear the brunt of the punishment so that the university can minimize the damage themselves.
Louisville will never have to recruit a player that knows he will be sitting out at least one postseason. When you’re good enough to get a scholarship to Louisville, you’re good enough to get a scholarship at another top 25 program that won’t force you to watch your first March Madness from the couch. That’s an indisputable benefit to imposing the ban this season.
So is the NCAA is letting Louisville protect their brand, next season’s ticket sales and the athletic department’s bottom-line, and doing so at the expense of the unpaid laborers that the 22,090 people that fill the Yum! Center on a nightly basis pay to watch.
Pitino, Jurich and Ramsey reportedly make nearly $10 million combined.
Damion Lee? Trey Lewis?
Their reimbursement for this season is a year of grad school paid in full and one opportunity for glory in March, one chance to play in the NCAA tournament, one shot at seeing themselves on One Shining Moment.
And Louisville just took that away from them.
Less than six weeks before the tournament is scheduled to start.
Because they’ve got to make sure that they sell enough tickets to turn a profit next November when they pay six figures to beat down a bunch of low-major programs trading blowouts for a way to fund their athletic department.
It’s time for a change.