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No, Louisville Isn’t Getting the Death Penalty

I’m always 100 percent transparent with you guys, so let me tell you a quick story.

It all starts on the day that the FBI/college basketball probe broke back last September, when I sent out this tweet, embedded below.

Honestly, once I hit send, I didn’t think anything of it. Anyone with even a surface-level understanding of NCAA rules should have known that it wasn’t a stretch to say that Louisville’s actions warranted the death penalty – even if they would almost certainly never receive it.

That’s also what made what happened next so surprising. After logging offline for a few hours, I returned to Twitter to find a private message from a prominent college basketball writer. I had just started working for KSR at the time, and apparently he thought that my tweet was supposed to be some sort of way of throwing my weight around in the Kentucky community.

I no longer have the direct message, so I don’t have the quote. But it loosely translated to, “Bro, stop trying to impress the KSR crowd by bashing Louisville. You’re embarrassing yourself.”

Well, fast-forward a little more than a year, and that tweet – the first by any prominent college basketball writer referencing Louisville and the death penalty – has come full-circle.

In the midst of the FBI cases now going to court, Brian Bowen Sr. took the witness stand on Tuesday and admitted that Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson gave him $1,300 to help pay for his rent. Louisville is now back in the cross-hairs, and when you combine this obvious (but still alleged) NCAA violation with the Andre McGee/Stripper-gate fiasco from a few years ago, it means that Louisville could be looking at its second, big-time NCAA infractions case. It has also led many people to now suggest what I did a year ago: To give the Cards the death penalty. The most prominent voice to suggest the topic is Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel and others have piggybacked from there.

Still, a lot changes in a year, and even though I was the first person to publicly link the terms “death penalty” and “Louisville basketball” together, I actually feel the exact opposite today as I did a year ago. For those wondering, no, Louisville won’t get the death penalty. While it makes for a splashy, sexy headline, it just isn’t going to happen.

Now before we get to the “why” of it all, it’s important to understand exactly what the NCAA’s death penalty is.

The death penalty is basically the NCAA’s “repeat violator” policy, a rule only used when a program that is already on probation once again violates NCAA rules. In other words, it’s basically the NCAA’s way of saying “You can’t control your program, so we need to tear it down to the ground and start back over.” The death penalty was most famously used with SMU football in the late 1980’s. At the time, SMU got caught paying dozens of players – after they were already on probation for, you guessed it, getting caught paying players. And it was only at that point that the NCAA stepped in, said “enough is enough” and shut down the program for two years.

In theory, that situation mirrors what happened at Louisville, where just months after the NCAA hit Cards basketball with penalties for the stripper-gate scandal, Johnson is alleged to have paid over a thousand dollars of Bowen’s rent. That’s also why, once again, talk of the death penalty came up again this week around the program.

However, anyone who knows a little bit about the SMU situation (and many of you do because of the documentary) knows why the death penalty probably will never be used again in college sports. It’s because, to use a bad pun, it basically killed SMU’s football program as we know it. What was once one of the best programs in the 1980’s has never again been the same, and other entities, such as the conference it was in and the city of Dallas were impacted as well.

And that’s a big part of the reason why the NCAA will probably never hand out the death penalty again: Even if the program (in this case Louisville basketball) is deserving of the penalty, it is too crippling to too many people. If Louisville were to get the death penalty it wouldn’t only impact them, but also hurt other ACC programs, TV networks that broadcast Louisville games like ESPN and CBS, and the city of Louisville and state of Kentucky as a whole. Can you imagine the loss of revenue just at the Yum Center/Rupp Arena if we went a season without a Kentucky-Louisville game?

So that’s part of why Louisville will never receive the death penalty. And here’s the other thing: If we’re being perfectly honest, Louisville’s situation is nothing like what happened at SMU.

Look, I know it’s probably going to upset some people here, so forgive me, but I’m going to defend Louisville a tiny bit for a second. While any NCAA rules violation is bad, let’s not just completely compare apples to apples here. Remember, SMU had a private fund set up which was literally paying dozens of players, thousands of dollars every month. Those payments – again, dozens of payments a month, for thousands of dollars – wouldn’t have stopped if the NCAA hadn’t stepped in. in Louisville’s case, Kenny Johnson broke NCAA rules by helping Brian Bowen Sr. with his rent. But let’s not act like a coach giving a player’s dad a little over $1,000 and then saying “this is a one-time only deal” (like Johnson did) is the same thing as boosters providing thousands a month in extra benefits for dozens of players. I’d hope everyone reading can see the different here.

More importantly however, there’s a point that I think everyone is missing: What is going on right now –  the threat of the death penalty – is the exact reason that Louisville immediately fired Rick Pitino after the FBI arrests. It’s why they didn’t give Pitino due process, didn’t wait for the facts to come to light. In essence, they fired Pitino to save the program.

Think about it.

Had these allegations come out and Louisville had stood by Pitino, can you imagine how bad – or in this case, worse – the school would have looked? This is a coach who had an assistant shuttling prostitutes into dorms just a few months before, and now the school was going to stand by him when a player was alleged to be receiving upwards of $100,000 in cash? How much Pitino did or did not know at that point would’ve been irrelevant (differing opinions have come out during the trial on this very topic). But had Louisville stood by him, it would look like they were defending his behavior. And it would have put the whole program in the crosshairs if Pitino had been found guilty in this case. Can you imagine how bad Louisville would have looked if they stood by Pitino, and then found out that he knew about payments to Bowen? That my friends, would’ve been worthy of the death penalty.

Instead, they fired Pitino, fired his staff and fired Tom Jurich. At that point, it wasn’t about waiting for all the facts, it was about proving to the NCAA that whatever went wrong would be fixed immediately, and whoever was to blame would be punished for it. Which is exactly what happened. There currently isn’t anyone at Louisville that had anything to do with the scandal, not Pitino, not Kenny Johnson, not Jurich, not the Bowen’s, no one. To Louisville’s credit, they showed a little over a year ago that they were serious about cleaning things up.

That’s also why the death penalty isn’t coming to the Cards.

Rick Pitino had to be spared to save the program.

That’s exactly what happened.

And why Louisville is safe from the NCAA’s worst possible punishment.


Why Ashton Hagans can’t stop smiling

Why Ashton Hagans can’t stop smiling

Since coming to Kentucky this summer, Ashton Hagans says he hasn’t been able to stop smiling. Why? Surrounded by elite players, Hagans says he’s finally able to focus on what he loves the most: defense.

“I’m real comfortable,” Hagans said. “Since I’ve been here, I really haven’t been able to stop smiling because when we have practice, I feel like my game is getting a lot better because I’m getting more comfortable.”

“In high school, I was the man on my team, so I had to worry about, ‘Are we going to play [well] tonight? What’s going to happen tonight?’ Now, I can — I don’t want to say relax — but just play my game more. Play defense way more than I was in high school. Not laid back, be more aggressive and show everybody what I’ve got. That’s really all I’m looking for this season is leaving it all on the court.”

Other programs try to recruit against Kentucky by telling players they won’t be “the man” in Lexington; Hagans’ comments show that’s actually one of the program’s biggest draws.


WATCH: Hey Kentucky previews Big Blue Madness

We are hours away from Big Blue Madness, so what better way to prepare than with the dulcet tones of Matt Jones and Lee Cruise? Last night, the pair previewed Madness for “Hey Kentucky,” so take a few minutes out of your morning to check it out:


Nick Richards on this year’s team: “We don’t hate each other”

Nick Richards on this year’s team: “We don’t hate each other”

Whether it be the core group of returning players, the super competitive freshmen or the head start in the Bahamas, there’s definitely a different feeling around this year’s Kentucky team. When asked about it, Sophomore Nick Richards said he’s simply having more fun than he did last season.

“I’m having more fun playing basketball with this group,” Richards told Michael Bennett. “It’s just more exciting. It’s more competitive. Guys actually get after each other. Off the court, we don’t really hate each other. We just gel together. That’s what most people are saying right now. They’re saying that we don’t hate each other.”

Well, then. Richards said another reason last year’s team struggled was they couldn’t move past things like a bad practice or a bad game; that’s something Richards has admitted to struggling with himself, so he’s doing his best to help the freshmen keep their heads up.

“When stuff gets hard in practice, you’ve just got to forget about it and move on to the next practice. That’s something that us as a team really didn’t get. Like last year, we would have horrible practices and the next practice, the next day, we were still thinking about that practice. Stuff like that, we didn’t really move on from.”

From listening to Richards rave about the freshmen, you can see why he’s having so much fun.

“We’ve got the best players, the best college freshmen in the country right now. EJ [Montgomery] is a 6-11 dude that can put the ball on the floor, shoot threes, beat anybody off the dribble. Keldon is one of the hardest working players you’ll ever see. Tyler, he can shoot the ball, he can shoot the lights out of the ball. Ashton, he does everything on defense. [Immanuel] Quick[ley], he’s a smart basketball player. He limits his mistakes, doesn’t really turn the ball over as much. Just little things like that. And they seem to be getting better and better at the little things in their game.”

And they don’t hate each other, which is a really good start.


Keldon Johnson is fine, back to practicing with team

Mark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports

John Calipari opened his Media Day press conference with an update on Keldon Johnson, and it’s a positive one.

Calipari kept it short, telling reporters Johnson is “full go today.”

The update is good to hear after Johnson tweaked his ankle in the final minutes of UK’s Pro Day last Sunday. It sent Big Blue Nation into a small panic as the Pro Day broadcast went off the air, but we now know Johnson is fine and will not miss any time.

We should’ve known he was fine when he was seen dancing on Ashton Hagans’ Instagram story earlier this week:


WATCH: Which Kentucky player has the most Attitude Points?

WATCH: Which Kentucky player has the most Attitude Points?

This Kentucky team has already demonstrated a tendency to talk trash to their opponents. Today, John Calipari said he doesn’t want his players to give the other team any additional motivation, so he’s giving “attitude points” to the players who do the most jawing in practice.

“I have a team that talks — I want a team to talk. Like the biggest issue we have, they don’t talk enough. The problem is when they talk at the other team, that’s a problem. That’s an attitude.

“So we have a couple guys that start competing, and then they start jawing at each other. They start sassing, as you would say. So now we have attitude points. So if they’re competing and the score is 12-9 and Keldon scores and then starts to chest bump, boop, attitude point, the other team. Now it’s 13-10, and we keep playing. So we have attitude points this year.

“My job is every year to try — what is this team, what do they need from me. So to get them — I want them to talk to each other. I just don’t want them to talk to the opponent. Leave them alone. Very good question. I gave up trade secrets, though (laughter).”

Off the bat, I bet you could guess who the biggest offenders are; regardless, I went around and asked.


Random Calipari: 2018 Media Day Edition

Random Calipari: 2018 Media Day Edition

As he often does, John Calipari went a little off the rails during today’s Media Day press conference. Here are six of the most ridiculous and random things he told reporters while discussing his 2018-19 squad.

“Before we start, is this media day or coaches’ day?”

This, of course, is a reference to Jerry Tipton’s question last year when Calipari tried to ask another question about the FBI investigation:

There was no such awkwardness today. Dangit.

“Geez, you’ll have to take out a kidney, I guess”

No, this is not Calipari talking about a kidney transplant; it’s him talking about Reid Travis’ weight loss since arriving at Kentucky. Travis has dropped from 262 lbs. to 245 lbs., prompting Calipari to joke he should lose five more. But from where?

“I asked him, what’s your weight. He said, 245. I said, you know, maybe we try five more. Take off five more. Well, he kind of looked at me, and I said, what’s your body fat. He said, 5.4. Geez, you’ll have to take out a kidney, I guess. I don’t know what to do.”

Don’t do that, Reid.

“Can you guys just take me from like here up?”

As Calipari reminded reporters throughout the press conference, he’s been on the road a lot lately, not getting back from a recruiting trip until 3:30 a.m. All that ‘crootin is taking a toll on his physique, prompting Cal to take some jabs at himself after all of the talk about Reid Travis’ body fat percentage.

“Mine is very high right now. I’ve been trying. I don’t know what to tell you. This late-night traveling and eating is a problem. Can you guys just take me from like here up? I’m not that bad when you just go from here up.”

“I’m very flawed and I’m a sinner”

Chill out, Pat Forde. That was Calipari’s quip when a reporter said he had two questions for him.

“I hit the eat poop button, like no, I’m not talking to you, okay”

We’re used to basketball questions at football media day, but the tables were turned today, with Calipari being asked about the Kentucky Football team twice. Cal heaped the praise on Mark Stoops for a job well done this season, but said he didn’t sugarcoat things with his gridiron counterpart when the Cats lost to Texas A&M.

“Can I say this? I called Mark (Stoops) after the Texas A&M game, and if you’re a coach, when you lose, don’t call me and tell me it was good. I don’t want to hear that. Like and if I see somebody on my phone and I know that’s what they’re going to try to do, I hit the eat poop button, like no, I’m not talking to you, okay.

“So I text to Mark what I saw, that the first touchdown they scored was, okay, your defense I thought balled, but they were on the field too long. It wasn’t your best game and you still went to overtime with a chance to win. Incredible.”

“It would put North Korea on the back burner”

By now, you should know this is about the possibility of Rick Pitino speaking to Calipari’s squad.

John Calipari will avoid potential North Korea situation with Rick Pitino

If anyone gets the “Eat Poop” button from Cal, it’s Rick.


LOOK: Andy Kennedy stopped by today’s practice

Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images North America

There were a lot of great moments at Kentucky Basketball Media Day this afternoon, but the most surprising may have been when Andy Kennedy walked in. The former Ole Miss coach was John Calipari’s guest at practice:

If you’ve read this website, you know I love Andy Kennedy, so nothing would make me happier than if he joined the Kentucky staff; however, I doubt that’s going to happen. After parting ways with Ole Miss in February, Kennedy did some work for the SEC Network. Perhaps today was part of a season preview? Please??