University of Louisville

Mark Story: Watching scandal reactions at U of L, UNC, are there any adults left in major college sports fan bases?

Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino watched his team play Kentucky on March 28, 2014, Indianapolis, in an NCAA Midwest Regional game. UK won, 74-69.
Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino watched his team play Kentucky on March 28, 2014, Indianapolis, in an NCAA Midwest Regional game. UK won, 74-69. Herald-Leader file photo

If you had listened to Lexington sports talk radio during Kentucky's scandal-plagued 1988-89 men's basketball season, you would have known two things with certitude:

1.) Eddie Sutton — the UK head coach whose program was then embroiled in a damaging NCAA investigation — was the most popular citizen of the commonwealth.

2.) A Big Blue citizen's brigade was headed to the home of then-UK President David Roselle with pitchforks and torches to register its disapproval of Roselle's plan to conduct an honest investigation into the revered Wildcats men's hoops program.

Given the tenor of that talk-radio fury, a Bluegrass State poll released by The Courier-Journal early in 1989 hit this state with the force of a giant asteroid.

The scientific poll showed a clear plurality and near majority of Kentuckians, 47 percent, either strongly (16 percent) or somewhat (31 percent) approved of "the way UK President David Roselle has handled the NCAA charges against the men's basketball program."

Only 28 percent disapproved (18 percent somewhat; 10 percent strongly). Twenty-five percent did not know.

Back then, there was a silent near-majority of Kentuckians who wanted the truth to come out even if it meant UK basketball suffered in the short run.

I've thought back to that 1989 Bluegrass State poll often since the alleged University of Louisville men's basketball/strippers/paid escorts scandal became public.

There is still much we do not know about the emerging mess at Louisville. For instance, who is the source of the alleged $10,000 that self-described "escort queen" Katina Powell says former U of L director of basketball operations Andre McGee paid her over four years for 22 "shows" performed by escorts/strippers in the Louisville men's hoops dormitory (mostly) for Cardinals players and recruits?

There has been enough information from Powell's tawdry paid sex-for-recruits claims confirmed by reputable media outlets, however, to know something was amiss within U of L basketball.

Is there a silent near-majority in the current Louisville fan base willing to support an honest investigation into what happened?

If so, it will be surprising. In 2015, a complete lack of perspective seems standard operating procedure in many major college sports fan bases.

During the long-running investigation of the academic scandal at North Carolina, no one has done more to uncover the truth about the raft of "phony classes" taken by UNC athletes (and "regular" students) than Raleigh News & Observer investigative reporter Dan Kane.

In response, Kane has received death threats, had his personal information posted on the Internet and been the target of a website whose sole purpose is to discredit him.

Given how over the top the reaction from some corners of the current Kentucky fan base is to criticism of major UK sports figures, can you imagine the Internet blowback if another major Kentucky Wildcats sports scandal happens in the age of Twitter?

Part of what is different now as compared to the late 1980s, I think, is that the NCAA and the perception of its investigations have been so degraded that no one believes their school will get a fair shake from the college sports "judicial system."

That makes it easier for fan bases to justify "see no evil" extremism and "everyone else does it too" relativism.

A glance through Louisville sports message boards Friday yielded the usual paranoia regarding the emerging U of L scandal.

There were crazy conspiracy theories (World Wide Wes is behind the whole thing). There were pass-the-buck rationalizations (athletes at every school are over-sexed). Of course, there was that hearty perennial, blaming the media (unless the media was paying for the hookers, the media is not to blame).

As was the case with UK fans in 1989, it is possible scientific polling will find a plurality of U of L backers in 2015 who can set emotion and partisanship aside and will support an honest look into the paid sex-for-recruits scandal.

We're going to find out. If Louisville men's basketball, as seems increasingly likely, is headed for a day of reckoning, is there still a faction of actual adults among Cardinals fans who believe getting to the truth and accepting the consequences is the only honorable step to recovery?