One of the biggest revelations from Tuesday’s NCAA basketball pay-for-play scandal news was the involvement of the Louisville Cardinals’ program. The Cards — along with Miami -- were outlined in the indictment, albeit not by name. According to that document, Louisville funneled $100,000 in installments through Adidas to a recruit.
This is all exacerbated by the fact that Louisville was already on probation for a prostitution-related scandal. So penalties for stepping (especially this far) outside the lines would be even steeper. Those penalties, whether levied by the NCAA or the Justice Department, will come at some point. But right now, it appears that both coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich will pay with their jobs.
Pitino released a statement through his attorney on Tuesday, expressing shock about the news, and said he didn’t know anything about it. He made similar comments after the sexual misconduct scandal. This is further exacerbated by the fact that this isn’t Pitino’s first (or second) go-around with NCAA infractions. He was also cited in a 1977 NCAA report against Hawaii, where he’d been coaching at the time.
So the Hall of Fame coach has made some major mistakes -- or at least allowed major mistakes to happen on his watch -- and Louisville is going to bear the brunt of the punishment for that now. That also has wider implications for the ACC, where UL is among the most successful members in recent years.
How will Pitino and Jurich’s departures impact the league overall?
1. Louisville men’s basketball (temporarily) leaves the conference’s upper echelon
The Cardinals have finished no lower than fourth since arriving in the ACC in 2014, and dating back to Pitino’s arrival, Louisville’s been sent to the NIT just twice. But the current sanctions and impending ones to come could level the program’s ability to bring in top talent and compete at a national title level. Pitino’s Hall of Fame status also likely helped generate interest around the program — something that won’t be the case anymore with him gone.
That leaves the top of the conference decidedly like it’s always been. North Carolina (NCAA punishment TBD) and Duke have long lorded over the ACC, though Louisville was on the short list of teams to challenge that order. The Cardinals’ fall likely opens the floodgates for an extended period of Blue Devils dominance now, especially if UNC gets dinged at some point.
2. Louisville athletics takes an overall hit
Under Jurich, Louisville had been a rising star among college programs -- and one that he was getting much of the credit for steering into this upward trajectory. That’s not just about men’s basketball, however. Louisville football (as you’ve probably noticed) has become a perennial league contender. The university’s been committed to an aggressive growth strategy overall. Olympic sports have also seen steady improvement. All of that made the ACC’s addition of the Cards over UConn that much more palatable and appreciated. Louisville wasn’t just arriving to take up space. They were here to compete for titles.
But a scandal like this will likely lead to a reexamination of how Louisville does business and the importance it places on athletics overall (in the short-term). That could very well mean all sports take a hit, including football, from a fan interest and funding perspective.
3. The ACC’s reputation isn’t in the best place right now
This isn’t just a Louisville-specific issue. It’s just a poorly timed result of many NCAA-related problems for ACC programs in recent years; and in a time period that happens to coincide with its most successful stretch as a major football and basketball league.
In the past five years, we’ve seen allegations large and small made against North Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse and Miami basketball, all of which are among the league’s top programs right now. Florida State, Miami and North Carolina football have seen issues of their own.
There’s no direct correlation between all of these issues at separate schools. But as an overall picture of the conference, it does display that several of its most prominent members are willing to take steps outside the lines (or at least turn a blind eye to steps outside). All of those championships AND all of those scandals at the same time? Definitely causes some onlookers to be a bit skeptical.
More to come here, obviously. And the full impact of Louisville’s involvement in the pay-for-play scandal has yet to be realized. We’ll continue keeping track of the developments for the wider NCAA scandal and aftermath.