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Louisville’s NCAA penalties highlight differing standards for punishment

And we all know what’s going to happen when the UNC penalties arrive...

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, the NCAA announced its penalties for the Louisville Cardinals basketball program and its sex scandal. First, the punishment rundown:

  • Coach Rick Pitino suspended for first five ACC games of 2017-18 season
  • Four years’ probation for the program
  • A vacation of basketball records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible from December 2010 and July 2014
  • 10-year show-cause penalty for assistant Andre McGee
  • Reduction of four scholarships over next four years
  • Recruiting restrictions
  • $5,000 fine
  • Forfeiture of money received through conference revenue sharing from NCAA Tournaments (2012-15)
  • Accepted 2015-16 self-imposed post-season ban

That sounds like a long list, but comparatively -- and for much worse infractions — Pitino and Louisville seemed to get off fairly easy.

As a reminder, the Syracuse Orange’s Jim Boeheim was originally suspended for nine ACC games after the NCAA’s ruling a couple years back. That was later altered to a nine-game stretch starting during non-conference play and stretching into the ACC schedule. The Orange went 4-5 during that time, but ended up making the Final Four that April.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Syracuse vs Miami Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

SU was also docked more scholarships, both initially and after appeal. Originally, the NCAA had ruled the Orange would lose 12 scholarships over a four-year stretch. But that number was knocked down to eight. Louisville will get a total of six, including the two self-imposed reductions it incurred in 2016-17.

This is ludicrous.

Pitino also believes that despite that, and the worse crimes committed by a Louisville, that the penalties his program faces are still egregious. He said today:

"For 35-some-odd years I've had a lot of faith in the NCAA and have reacted that way accordingly as a head basketball coach in the belief of their rules. Not only is it unjust ... over-the-top severe, but personally I've lost a lot of faith in the NCAA that I've had over the last 35 years with what they just did.”

A source close to the proceedings told ESPN they were surprised by the lesser penalties -- and also alluded to Syracuse’s issues a bit too, in comparison:

"Five games? If I could do these things and get a five-game suspension, why not cheat? We have a head coach and a program that skated. If academic fraud is bad, how do prostitution and higher education mix? This was as bad or worse than any academic fraud."

None of this is to say that we should be sitting here standing up for the NCAA, and its ability to hand out penalties. Quite the opposite. It’s proven to be a toothless organization with inconsistent principles and standards. We’ve been on the wrong side of that inconsistency here. And the same will probably be said for the North Carolina case, when they finally get around to a ruling there as well.

Duke v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

But all of it has simply taught us that the penalty for breaking the rules and winning (either afterward or as a result) is minimal. Even if the NCAA does indeed strip the school of its 2013 National Championship (and/or the 2012 Final Four berth), what does that really prove? Who does that really harm?

The school knows it won. So do the players and the fans. The t-shirts aren’t taken away from everyone that bought one. And we all watched the game transpire.

So in all, that’s really the biggest penalty here for Louisville: A potential removal of banners that were still won anyway.

Part of Syracuse’s penalties from the NCAA stemmed from the late Fab Melo participating in games while ineligible during the 2011-12 season. That 2012 team made it to the Elite 8 without him. But wouldn’t we rather have just won the championship with him and dealt with the consequences later? Despite us benching him for the tournament, we got hit harder than Louisville did as it is. It appears that winning a championship doesn’t really alter your punishment in any way. But being Jim Boeheim might.

Let’s not dwell. Our punishment’s over, while Louisville’s has just begun. The NCAA is begging the Power Five to leave, and the more times they go after big programs like Louisville, the more likely that becomes in the near-term. We’re the primary fall guy of late, but far from the only one. UNC’s penalties should reveal even more about just how much the NCAA cares about academics (or not, depending on the school).