Column: Louisville and the detestable practice of contrived selflessness

Louisville head basketball coach reacts as he listens to University President Dr. James Ramsey's announcement that they will be self-imposing a ban on postseason play for the 2015-16 men's basketball team, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, in Louisville Ky. Louisville announced the ban amid ongoing investigations into a sex scandal in which an escort alleged that a former staffer paid her and other dancers to strip and have sex with recruits and players. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

This week the University of Louisville Athletics Director Tom Jurich announced a self-imposed postseason ban on their men’s basketball program. The program has been embroiled in controversy since October 2015, when allegations surfaced regarding university-funded parties for the players and recruits, including dancers and prostitution.

In response to an internal investigation, Louisville has adopted a contrived sense of selflessness in their decision to ban themselves from the postseason, according to ESPN. This ban is a halfhearted attempt to ameliorate their situation, and hopefully fend off a harsher postseason ban from the NCAA, which would go into effect next year and cause their elite recruiting class to seek other offers.

The athletics department has failed to claim responsibility, with head coach Rick Pitino attempting to feign humility and ignorance regarding the allegations, and offer glib remarks regarding the pain felt by the team. The team is undeserving of pain in this situation, having done little as individual student-athletes to deserve to lose their ability to compete in March.

Though Pitino has maintained ignorance, his claim is an unbelievable one. The funds used by members of the men’s basketball team coaching staff to procure strippers for their students did not materialize out of thin air. Though the ESPN coverage focused on Andre McGee, a “former men’s basketball staffer at Louisville” and his relationship with “former escort” Katina Powell who supplied the dancers, Pitino is still liable.

Whether he understood the true depth of the depravity is unclear, but also inconsequential – Pitino should have known. Given the depths of his selfishness, it is time to throw the captain overboard.

The depravity on display here is not simply, as Pitino stated in the ESPN article, a result of the system of punishments and fines for such violations being broken. Though there are flaws in the system, there are far greater flaws in the outlandish recruiting process the NCAA has allowed to proliferate. Recruiting should rely on the tact of the coaches and the competitiveness of the program.

None can fault a recruit for partaking in extravagant parties thrown by the athletics department. The fact that their first experience with Louisville included strippers and a healthy flow of alcohol demonstrably affects the recruiting process. Programs have no chance at competing for recruits if their reception is short of the Las Vegas strip provided by Louisville and other questionable members of the basketball establishment. Providing a storied program, proven coach, as well as untold luxuries, made the Louisville package a hard no.

The student-athletes do not deserve to have their shot at this season’s championship taken away. According to ABC, the current team includes two graduate students, Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, who have had their only chance at a championship run stripped. The student-athletes cannot be held responsible for the actions of their coaches and athletic directors. Expecting them to somehow reject the lifestyle offered by their school, regardless of illicitness, is absurd.

Though most student-athletes understand that their stay at college will be atypical, it is doubtful that they would come to expect this sort of fantasyland.  

Universities such as Louisville have contributed to the bastardization of the recruitment process, creating a failed, monster of a system. Corruption in the recruitment process has been developing for many decades, becoming a deeply embedded problem. Shaquille O’Neal recently suggested that his son should choose LSU, as they “they paid very well” when he attended, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Though the system cannot be fixed, the NCAA must go after those responsible in individual incidents with unrelenting harshness in order to send a strong message and deter the more outlandish examples of recruitment and collegiate athletics corruption.

Rick Pitino’s criticism of the NCAA’s system of punishment, therefore, is not only wrong, but bold. Criticizing the NCAA before their investigation is complete is playing with fire. Though much of the focus has been on the moral and ethical bankruptcy on display, the true focus should be on the failure of Rick Pitino and others in their refusal to admit responsibility, and pass that weight onto the players’ shoulders. His comments and insolence will strike a nerve with the NCAA.

With the plummeting reputation of college athletics programs, they will be looking to place someone’s head on a pike to appease the vocal community of critics. For matters of dignity and retribution, that man should be Rick Pitino.