In 2003, I was newly enrolled at the University of Louisville. I was 30 years old, and I was a freshman. (Nothing like getting a late start on education huh?) One of my first introductions to higher learning at U of L was Sociology 203 – Intro to Social Problems. That class met at Strickler Hall. Although I disagreed with the professor on almost every principle he taught, I managed to get through it. On Friday, 13 years after completing that class, I found myself back in Strickler Hall. This time, there were different topics discussed, but the underlying theme remained the same. Friday in Strickler Hall, we discussed Social Problems again as the University announced a self imposed post season ban on this year’s Men’s Basketball Team for the actions of others involved in the Katina Powell escort scandal.
In October we learned of the allegations. The fact that you are reading this post means that you are familiar with the underlying allegations, so I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say, the allegations are tawdry, embarrassing, and an obvious violation of many NCAA rules. There has been much discussion about the veracity of the accuser, the holes in her story, and the gaping inconsistencies that have been well chronicled. There have been lawsuits, grand jury investigations, more lawsuits, and a general cloud of embarrassment that has draped the University when the allegations were addressed by the media. Then, we met this team; and while the backdrop remained ever present, there was always the way this team played. This is a special team.
This team is special for a number of reasons. It is perhaps the best shooting group Pitino has mustered in the last five years. It is certainly a more personable and likable team than last year’s, and it is led by two quality individuals who truly embody the ideals and principles we should all aspire to. The class and grace that these young men showed on Friday night when discussing the dream shattering reality of the post season ban is more than I could have mustered. For them, I am truly sorry.
On the stage in Strickler Hall, the gathered media were given a lot of nothing to justify the decision of imposing the ban. Cloaking the entire discussion with statements of “ongoing investigation” and “I can’t comment on that at this time.” The four men representing the University approached the press conference from every conceivable differing angle. However, none of the angles seemed satisfying. When it had concluded, the only thing anyone knew was there must have been something, and it must have been bad.
The mood inside Strickler was surreal. It felt like a funeral where a fistfight might break out. The gathered assembly was left shaking their heads in disbelief wondering “what the hell did I just witness.”
For his part, Dr. James Ramsey came across as the administrator who had come to the difficult decision to do what is in the best interest of the University. For my part, I wasn’t buying it; not from him, and not now.
Tom Jurich was appropriate. He sat through the entire ceremony, spoke little, and toed the company line. This ban, we were told, was not his decision.
Chuck Smrt was also in attendance. He was lawyerly. Which means he talked a lot and didn’t say anything substantive. He has the misfortune of carrying a fairly wry smile on his face most of the time. Today, it didn’t seem appropriate.
Then there was Pitino. If you thought he was on board with this decision, it took about six seconds of watching his body language to realize he was not. His icy stare, his stone jaw, and his rare display of emotion, choking back tears, this was not Rick’s move. He wouldn’t have done this, and if there were any way to undo this, he would. When he spoke, Rick was Rick. He encouraged the fans, and talked about being a soldier in this “army” but he has all the making of a coup leader.
Regardless of the fractures in leadership that are present, and they are, the reality of this situation is that a team full of young men who had nothing to do with the scandal are paying the price. I disagree with the decision, the decision maker, and the finality of the entire exercise.
The irony of this season ending decision is thick. On a team where “I got your back” was the battle cry, no one had these guys backs. Not the university, the President, or anyone who blesses this move. Today was another example of Social Problems in Strickler Hall. I wish I hadn’t been present for this lecture.
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