After the latest basketball scandal at the University of Louisville, sports columnists up and down the eastern seaboard are raising their voices in a common plea:
Hey, hey, ho, ho, from the ACC, U of L has to go.
“Why did the ACC ever invite Louisville?,” asks the headline on a column in the Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record.
Writing in Connecticut — a state where U of L outmaneuvering UConn for the final musical chair in the ACC is a sore on the sports psyche — the Hartford Courant’s Jeff Jacobs asks, “What would it take to throw Louisville out of the ACC and let UConn in?”
“ACC should sanction Louisville for continued scandals,” says a headline from the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press. Columnist David Teel explains that a three-quarters majority, 11 of the 14 other ACC schools, would have to vote aye for Louisville to be booted from the league.
Without minimizing in any way the dumpster fire of scandals that festered at Louisville until things reached meltdown last week, not one thing that has happened at U of L has damaged the credibility of the ACC as much as North Carolina’s actions have in what is commonly known as the “UNC academic fraud scandal.”
Since joining the ACC for the 2013-14 school year, Louisville has been crisis central.
There was the infamous strippers/escorts for recruits in men’s basketball scandal that came to light in 2015. Pending appeal, that sordid chapter might lead to U of L’s 2013 NCAA championship being vacated.
Then came U of L football’s role last fall in “Wakey Leaks,” the accepting of purloined information by a Cardinals assistant coach about the Wake Forest game plan before the two teams played.
The latter scandal finally forced a day of reckoning for U of L athletics. Men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino was placed on unpaid administrative leave and “effectively fired,” according to his attorney.
Jurich, the school’s long-time athletics director, was placed on paid administrative leave.
Yet all of Louisville’s accumulated tawdriness does not undermine the foundations of the school’s academic integrity in the way that almost 1,500 North Carolina athletes being allowed/encouraged to take academically fraudulent classes for 18 years (1993-2011) does.
What happened in Chapel Hill is even more galling because UNC for decades boasted about its integrity and how “The Carolina Way” was the model for what college sports should be.
Once questions were raised about the authenticity of classes being offered to athletes in UNC’s African and Afro-American Studies program, only determined reporting by the Raleigh News & Observer forced North Carolina to confront its failings.
Even after doing so, rather than contrition, UNC has fought any kind of sanction for its athletics teams. It claims that, by the letter of NCAA law, the sham classes populated disproportionately — but not exclusively — by athletes are not a violation.
“Is this academic fraud? Yes, it is by a normal person’s standards,” UNC Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham told Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports in February. “But by the NCAA definition (it is not). ... I’m telling you what happened was bad, but it’s not against the rules.”
Louisville’s marriage with the ACC was one of convenience. The No. 165-ranked national university in the country according to U.S. News & World Report, U of L did not fit the academic profile in a league in which seven schools rank in the top 35.
However, the ACC didn’t bring U of L in to enhance its reputation for academics.
At a time of realignment uncertainty when the ACC was desperate to enhance its reputation for football, Louisville was its best available option.
To be a respected ACC member, U of L obviously needs to stop cutting competitive corners. Not giving in to calls to bring back Jurich — the man whose toleration for coaching scandal helped lead Louisville astray — is where that needs to start.
Still, North Carolina is an ACC charter member much more identified with the league’s brand than is U of L.
The systemic undermining of academic integrity at UNC on behalf of so many athletes has done far more to hurt the credibility of the ACC than all of the Cardinals’ sins.