It has been one hell of a week for the University of Louisville. Head basketball coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were both put on administrative leave this week following reports from the FBI that most recent signee Brian Bowen had received improper benefits from Adidas, the schools athletic apparel sponsor.
First things first: Pitino and Jurich both deserve to lose their jobs and if you think otherwise, you’re delusional. They are both some of the dirtiest characters in college athletics and have finally been outed for it. Good riddance to both. Which leads me to my second point: this situation could have been avoided (or at least lessened) by paying college athletes. It’s a disgrace that the NCAA is still a middleman to all this and I hope this will be a catalyst toward getting these athletes paid.
Something that Louisville fans may not be thinking about, or fans in general, is that this latest scandal raises questions about the legitimacy of the past 20 years of Louisville athletics. It’s pretty clear at this point, given his handling of the situation, that Jurich is not running his programs in a way that is acceptable by NCAA standards and when you look at the entire athletic department, some questions that should have been asked before now become more glaring. How does a university like Louisville develop all it’s sports into top 25 programs in under 20 years? The statistics counter Jurich hiring outstanding coaches in every sport, especially to a midwest city like Louisville. But let’s pretend he was able to lure all these coaches above the board. One is Pitino and another is Bobby Petrino, so you’re not off to a great start character wise. And maybe Dan McDonald is the Nick Saban of college baseball, but how is it that the biggest programs in college baseball are essentially the teams from California, the teams from Texas, the teams from the south, and then Louisville. Maybe McDonald is that persuasive, but I’d rather play in one of those other places for a variety of reasons. Women’s basketball came out of nowhere when it hired Jeff Walz in 2007, who had been a lifetime assistant. Again, maybe Walz is THAT DUDE. But you’re now talking about a university essentially lucking into TWO top 3 coaches in two separate sports, and neither of those sports is basketball, which your university was built on. This is obviously all speculation on my part, but I have serious questions about how some of this stuff got done.
Now, getting out of the politics of it, where does (and should) the university go from here? You have a top-10 program who was about to go into the season expecting a run at a title now facing the likely possibility of receiving the death penalty. They are looking for a coach for this season, because they will still compete this year despite the FBI and NCAA looking into everything. I think there is almost no chance, given the Katina Powell situation earlier this year coming to a close, that Louisville avoids the death penalty. So, what should Louisville be hoping for?
Honestly, I think at this point, the death penalty would be the best case scenario for the basketball program. To be clear, this would destroy a lot of money coming into the university and the city, but last time I checked, the FBI doesn’t care about your cities economics. But, in terms of the program itself, you need a reboot. Louisville is a top 7 all-time basketball program, with a storied history and a big following. I believe that if you don’t clean house completely and sit it out a few years, you will forever have a cloud over the program. The new coach will have an absolute disaster of a mess to clean up, plus the NCAA penalty will be so harsh, it will feel like a death penalty while still being able to play the game. It’s college purgatory and will set the program back much farther than it already is.
So let’s paint a much prettier picture. It’s 2023. Louisville got the death penalty. All the players on the roster, who may or may not have received benefits as well, are all gone. The entire coaching staff, gone. Assistants, secretaries, everybody is gone. You have a new athletic director, one who is going to build it right. He’s already run Petrino out of town, because at this point the university can’t afford to take anymore PR hits, and because Petrino isn’t as good a coach as he was. He’s already hired a young upstart for the football team (Jeff Brohm?) and now, he’s looking for the same for the basketball program. David Padgett did an admirable job for the 2017-18 season, the team made the tournament as a six seed and got beat in the second round. He was playing against a stacked hand. The new AD goes to hire another young guy as the basketball coach, one without any direct coaching ties to Pitino (Bashir Mason, Matt McCall, Will Wade?) and he is given a 7 year contract. Plenty of time to build it his way and evaluate as they go. Louisville has been scrubbed clean of all the dirt it accumulated and the reputation has been (somewhat) restored. I like that picture a whole lot better than letting Padgett flounder for a few years trying to salvage a burning ship. He may stop the fire, but the ship needs some major work before it’s operational.