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Louisville can bring up Penn State when appealing NCAA penalties

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For those who have the stomach to read the NCAA’s report on what happened with the Louisville men’s basketball program between 2010 and 2014, put your head on a swivel. One’s head will instinctively shake.

It is a detailed account of strippers, prostitutes and teenagers all in the name of luring them to play basketball for the Louisville Cardinals and Coach Rick Pitino. The Committee on Infractions panel presented a meticulous case against those involved and why Pitino bears  responsibility, even if he was unaware of what was transpiring.

One of the penalties prescribed was forfeiting games over those four years, which includes their 2013 NCAA championship. This part should be, and must be, reversed.

To be sure, what happened over that four-year period is beyond reprehensible. Louisville admitted that one of Pitino’s staff members (identified by accuser Katina Powell as Andre McGee), arranged sexual trysts for teenage recruits, including four 17-year-olds and at least one who was only 16 at the time. Graduate assistant Brandon Williams was also implicated.

At least two players on the Louisville 2013 championship team roster were also involved. Those identified to ESPN by Powell and two of her daughters (who were among the “escorts”) were star player Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell.

They are now on probation, they lost scholarships and their recruiting practices are limited. The also made it difficult for McGee to get a job in college basketball for 10 years and Williams for one year.

For his part, Pitino is suspended for the first five games of the 2018 ACC schedule. Then NCAA accepted the school’s self-imposed post season ban in 2015-16.

All of these make sense. It is a little bit tougher when the committee ordered the school to give up its share of revenue earned from playing in the 2012-2015 NCAA Tournament. The justification? The participating members of the basketball team became “ineligible” because they received “impermissible benefits.”

This is the logic also used in forfeiting all wins over the period, including the 2013 championship. Impermissible benefits are usually reserved for cash under the table, cars, no-work jobs, etc. While such actions carried out with legal age young men may be morally wrong, it’s hard to keep a straight face in hearing sexual favors described as a benefit when determining eligibility.

“Not only was this unjust and over the top in its severity,” Pitino said at a news conference, “but I’ve lost a lot of faith in the NCAA.”

Why should anyone outside of the Cardinals’ fan base be worked up about this? Two words:

Jerry Sandusky.

Sandusky perpetrated horrific treatment of young boys while serving as an assistant coach to Joe Paterno at Penn State. Sandusky is rightfully in prison and the NCAA ruled Paterno and the university were negligent as the atrocities continued. According to court testimony, Paterno knew about Sandusky’s behavior.

The Committee on Infractions slapped PSU with a $60 million fine, cut scholarships, instituted a post-season ban and forced Penn State to vacate their wins from 1998-2011. They were also forced to return bowl game money.

But when Penn State and supporters fought back (rightly or wrongly), the vacated wins were restored by the NCAA in January, 2015.

Think about that. No wins are vacated following criminal behavior that ruined lives.

What Louisville did was wrong, repugnant and also qualifies as child abuse in some of the cases. But when compared to Penn State, they should have every reason to believe they will win on appeal to either the NCAA or in court.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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