John Clay

Louisville’s NCAA penalties not good news for North Carolina

University of North Carolina chancellor Carol L. Folt listens as Bubba Cunningham, UNC-Chapel Hill athletics director, answers a question about future NCAA sanctions in 2014.
University of North Carolina chancellor Carol L. Folt listens as Bubba Cunningham, UNC-Chapel Hill athletics director, answers a question about future NCAA sanctions in 2014. Raleigh News and Observer

When the news broke Thursday concerning the NCAA’s penalties levied against the Louisville basketball program, the details surely sent reverberations down the hallowed halls at the University of North Carolina.

And the University of Mississippi.

And Baylor University.

After a botched investigation of the University of Miami football program prompted a reorganization of its enforcement division, the NCAA has apparently re-located its hammer.

Just ask Louisville, which cried big tears Thursday over what it considered “over-the-top” penalties with regards to the so-called stripper scandal that rocked its basketball program. Despite violations that included prostitutes, sex acts and underage prospects, all organized by a basketball staff member, the school vowed to appeal what it deemed an unfair judgment.

Meanwhile, next up on the NCAA docket could be North Carolina and that academic fraud scandal that spanned a couple of decades and has been the subject of intense jockeying between Chapel Hill and Indianapolis. North Carolina: “The NCAA has no jurisdiction over our academics.” The NCAA: “Yes we do.” North Carolina: “No you don’t.” The NCAA: “Yes we do.”

The school has received a third notice of allegations, meaning that surely we’re headed for some sort of conclusion. There doesn’t seem to be a month or a week or day that goes by without a Kentucky or a Louisville fan asking on a radio show or a tweet or an email, “When is the NCAA going to do something to North Carolina?”

What the NCAA had not done was show the willingness to strip a Division I school of its basketball title. The Louisville ruling changed all that. Unless the Cards win that appeal, there’s a good chance its 2013 banner will disappear. North Carolina has a couple of those, as well, covering its 2005 and 2009 titles. There is now a very real possibility those two could go to the trash bin, as well.

The Louisville ruling also set another notable precedent. Louisville Coach Rick Pitino claimed all along that he was oblivious to the “repugnant” (NCAA’s term) acts committed in Billy Minardi Hall. In its report, the NCAA stated it believed the coach. But it also stated that it didn’t matter. Pitino is responsible for his program. If he didn’t know, he should have known. Or at least should have made a better effort to find out.

That’s a warning shot toward Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze, who has denied any knowledge of the recruiting allegations against his program the NCAA is reportedly investigating. Not knowing is not a defense. Plausible deniability is no longer a thing. Coaches, you’re on notice.

Then there’s sex. There is nothing in that voluminous NCAA rule book that pertains specifically to sex. And one of Louisville’s weaker defenses was that the $5,400 that financed the “entertainment” for recruits was not a substantial figure. Possibly after it finished laughing, the infractions committee said that the money didn’t matter as much as the abhorrent acts. Some violations don’t have to be in a rule book.

That makes you wonder if the NCAA will take action against Baylor over its sexual assault scandal. Investigators have reportedly interviewed administrators and some of the principals involved. Yet there has been a question about the NCAA’s jurisdiction. Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples wrote, “(The NCAA) has no rules against any of the awful things that happened at Baylor. States have rules against those things. So does the federal government. The NCAA does not.”

That no longer matters. The Louisville case proved that and rightly so. Some violations are so egregious they deserve punishment even if they do not fit neatly into regulations. And the NCAA is not a governmental body. It’s basically a club comprised of members. It is the membership that makes the rules, passes judgment and owns the hammer.

Thursday, the NCAA showed it’s no longer afraid to use it.

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