COMMENTARY

Louisville should dispense with meek approach and fight NCAA

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- A week that included the signing of an important recruit, adding to a consensus top-10 class for the 2019-20 season, should have been reason to celebrate for Louisville basketball fans hungry for a return to the days of consistent Top-25 teams and NCAA Tournament success.


Instead, the signing of graduate transfer Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble, who is expected to help alleviate the Cardinals' shortcomings at point guard, was tempered by the news that Louisville had received a verbal notice of inquiry from the NCAA.


Now school officials and Card Nation are faced once again with uncertainty about the future of their basketball program.


Not that the inquiry was unexpected, given Louisville's involvement in the pay-for-play scandal revealed in the FBI's widespread investigation of corruption in college basketball.


School spokesman John Karman has informed media outlets that he can't provide any details at this time, explaining that "it would be premature for the university to discuss strategy or any aspects of how we will work with the NCAA in this matter."


The only other comment so far has come from coach Chris Mack, who told The Courier-Journal in a text message, "I'm 100 percent focused on our team's improvement. I know our university will fully cooperate with the NCAA staff."


Although no charges were filed against any UofL coaches, the FBI alleged payments were made to two prospects and their families by former assistants Jordan Fair and Kenny Johnson, who is now an assistant coach at LaSalle.


After the FBI announced arrests in its investigation in the summer of 2017, UofL fired Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino, Fair, Johnson and athletic director Tom Jurich.


Fair is alleged to have paid the family of a recruit Brian Bowen $900. Authorities said Bowen's father, Brian Sr., was promised $100,000 for his son to attend UofL and sign a sponsorship deal with Adidas when he turned professional. Brian Sr. testified in court that he also received $1,300 from Johnson three weeks after his son enrolled in UofL.


The younger Bowen, a McDonald's All-American, was withheld from all team activities in the fall of 2017, later withdrew from UofL and has since joined the National Basketball League of Australia's Next Stars program.


What makes the upcoming NCAA investigation even more worrisome than it would have been anyway is that Louisville is on shaky ground because it is already on probation from another case.


The NCAA reduced scholarships, issued fines and vacated 123 wins, including the Cards' 2013 national championship and its 2012 Final Four appearance, in the sex parties scandal. Escort Katina Powell accused then-director of basketball operations Andre McGee of paying her and other women to dance for and have sex with players and recruits.


A death penalty is one of the options open to the NCAA when a school that is on probation if is found to have committed another serious violation.


How the university will defend itself against the latest charges remains to be seen, but the guess here is that it will be more aggressive than it was in the earlier case when it self-imposed sanctions that didn't prevent the subsequent serious penalties levied by the NCAA, one of which was unprecedented.


Louisville remains the only school involved in the scandal that has fired its head coach and AD. That, along with a postseason ban for the 2017 season, and other lesser sanctions got them no mercy from the NCAA, which had never before vacated a national basketball title.


The two main architects of that ill-fated approach -- Jurich and former president James Ramsey -- are gone and have been replaced by president Neeli Bendapudi and AD Vince Tyra.


So my unsolicited advice to UofL's athletic and school administration this time is to play hard ball with the NCAA. Fight, fight, fight. Take a cue from North Carolina, which vigorously disputed accusations of years-long academic fraud and escaped with no sanctions.


In response to the FBI investigation, UofL has already done all it can do. Still, short of disbanding the basketball program, which seems remote, there are several avenues the NCAA could take if it ultimately decides to punish the school more. They include another postseason ban, scholarship reductions and an extension of probation.


Given what's at stake and its recent treatment by the NCAA, Louisville should dispense with the timid approach it took last time, to no avail, and defend itself fearlessly and forcefully. And please, do not seek the advice of high-paid former consultant Chuck Smrt, whose counsel was virtually worthless.


Because we've already seen how far trying to please the NCAA will get you.


Bill Stone, a former member of both UofL's board of trustees and the UofL Athletic Association and a current member of the school's board of overseers, agrees with that strategy.


"Why do you want to be Mr. Nice Guy with the NCAA?" Stone asked C-J columnist Tim Sullivan. "They give no credit for being morally correct. They give you no credit for being honorable. In my opinion, a good strategy would be to drag this thing out because every day you're going to learn people are much worse than us. I believe our fan base is counting on the university to really protect it. . .The university must go into this thing with the philosophy that the NCAA is not our friend."

 

KIMBLE A WELCOME ADDITION

 

Meanwhile. . .


Kimble, a 6-foot point guard from Saint Joseph's, could solve Louisville’s need for an experienced point guard with the departure of starter Christen Cunningham and Khwan Fore, both fifth-year players. If nothing else, Kimble can provide important depth in the backcourt.


Other candidates for the starting job appear to be incoming freshman David Johnson and  junior Darius Perry, both of whom are capable of playing the off-guard spot too.


Kimble averaged 15.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 23 games last season and is the only St. Joe player to be named a captain for three years. He decided to transfer after the school fired veteran coach Phil Martelli and hired Billy Lange.


A Philadelphia Inquirer reporter called Kimble "the heartbeat of every team he's ever played on."

 

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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