My first University of Louisville event was a football game in 1968 at the old Fairgrounds Stadium. The Cardinals beat Tulsa 16-7, on a warm sunny October day. I was in the stands that day on a discount ticket.
I was later a student at The University of Louisville while working in the Sports Department of The Courier-Journal. I wrote for the student paper “The Cardinal”. I have been around U of L athletics for almost 50 years.
In covering some of the most heart wrenching losses such as the loss to UCLA in the semifinals of the 1975 NCAA Tournament in overtime, Louisville’s 65-6 loss to Southern Mississippi in Howard Schnellenberger’s third season 1987, Rupp Arena when Texas A&M edged Louisville 72-69 in the NCAA Tournament in 2007. I’ve seen my fair share of Cardinal low points.
I can go on and on. The the NCAA loss to Kentucky in 2014 when the Cardinals led most of the game. And last year’s loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament in overtime.
I’ve been following Louisville athletics a long time. But Friday, February 5, 2016, will go down as the low point. Its a day I never thought would come.
The school announced a self-imposed ban from the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA Tournaments this season. Louisville (18-4, 7-2) ranked 19th will not play in the post-season.
I can’t remember the last time Louisville didn’t at least didn’t participate in the conference tournament. The last time was following was the 1963 season under Peck Hickman. That team finished 14-11.
“This is really a dark day,” said one media member who has covered the Cardinals about as long as I have.
UofL President Dr. James Ramsey, Athletics Director Tom Jurich, head basketball coach Rick Pitino and Chuck Smrt, hired to head the NCAA investigation were at Strickler Hall on campus to make the announcement, Friday.
“Upon information we received from the NCAA and the university’s investigation it was deemed reasonable that violations had occurred in the Mens Basketball program in the past,” said Ramsey who read from a prepared statement.
“After consulting with Tom (Jurich) I made the decision to withhold the men’s basketball program from all conference and NCAA competition,” said Ramsey.
This is a major blow to a team coming off an upset of No. 2 North Carolina with nine games remaining against the meat of the ACC schedule.
The Cardinals host Boston College, Saturday before going to Duke, Monday. Louisville also has road games at Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Miami, Florida and Virginia. The home games inlcuding BC are Syracuse, Duke and Georgia Tech on Senior Night.
The two players that are impacted the most are graduate students Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. Lee and Lewis came to Louisville to play in the NCAA Tournament, they will leave UofL without appearing.
The players had a seperate press conference following practice at the Yum Center. Lee and Lewis led the players into the media room. The rest of the team stood behind them.
“See these guys standing behind me, these guys truly got our back,” said Lewis a fifth year transfer from Drexel. “We were truly devastated.”
“No one knows how hard these guys have worked from before we went to Puerto Rico, early mornings until late at night.”
But the ban means no post-season, no NCAA Tournament. The reason Lee and Lewis came to Louisville.
“There is no other place I’d rather be, no other coach I’d rather play for no other teammates I’d rather have,” said Lee. “We are both devastated. We feel we did’t deserve this. This team doesn’t deserve this.”
Lewis echoed Lee’s thoughts. “It definitely hurts,” said Lewis. “We did not see this coming. It was a shock.”
He said the remaining nine games take on added meaning. “This is our championship,” said Lewis. “We have nine game left. We have to have fun. Enjoy it. We’re going to give it our all. It makes it more significant. ”
This team will certainly have earned a special place among its fans.
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