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Good Move, U of L. Your Turn, UNC


It’s been a painful, tumultuous annus horribilis for Jim Ramsey. But on Friday, the embattled University of Louisville President — with a long career of accomplishment in academia and government — may have had his finest hour. Through his courage and sacrifice, Ramsey took a giant leap toward restoring the integrity of his university and its athletic department.

KSR regulars won’t need me to rehash the Cardinal basketball scandal that forced this painful moment.  (OK, I know you love it: Here are my takes on Escort-Gate.)  While Coach Rick Pitino has survived for the time being, no one expected the salacious story to disappear from the public eye or escape NCAA sanction.  And while the university promised a thorough investigation, the skeptical press and cynical public expected more excuses, foot-dragging, and perhaps a gentle self-flagellation.

But Jim Ramsey didn’t take the easy way out.  By self-imposing a one-year ban on post-season play — including opting out of the ACC championships and the NCAA tournament — U of L hit itself where it hurts most. I’ve always felt that forfeiting past wins — even in an ignominious case such as Penn State — serves as weak tea: a lame, impotent, Stalinist effort to rewrite history in an age when nothing disappears from the Internet.  By contrast, abandoning a chance for future glory, particularly in a year when the Cards were poised to make a deep post-season run, is a gut punch to L1C4 Nation, to its players, and especially to Trey Lewis and Damion Lee, graduate transfers who came to Louisville precisely for the opportunity to pursue the Final Four.

In a perfect world, perhaps Pitino was correct to argue that severe financial sanctions to the institution would have been more appropriate than punishing the players and fan base. But in the ugly, ethically-challenged construct that is college basketball today, shielding the squad from the sport’s biggest spotlight is by far the most effective and powerful way to seize the attention of the league and public — and to help prevent such behavior from transpiring again.

The sourest note of Friday’s press conference was the grim realization that Jim Ramsey’s prior academic home — the University of North Carolina — will, in all likelihood, still be playing in late March.  Louisville’s transgressions were pretty disgusting, indicative of a systematic failure that needed be redressed through strong sanctions.  But the university’s failures in Escort-gate pale in comparison to what I have argued was the most morally offensive institutional misconduct in the history of college sports.

To refresh a painful memory: Over an 18 year period, more than three thousand UNC students enrolled in a series of sham African and Afro-American Studies classes, which provided them with respectable grades despite never having to take a test, or even to show up in class.  According to a UNC-commissioned report, the scheme was engineered by a cynical cabal of faculty members, administrators, and academic advisers, who conspired to keep athletes eligible to play by steering them to classes in which the only requirement was a single paper that was never read, but in which A’s and B’s were bestowed simply for signing up.  While no top school officials or leading coaches were implicated in wrongdoing, the classes were an open secret on campus – word spread throughout the fraternity and sorority system – in fact, more than half of the students impacted were not athletes.  The scandal violated the very underpinning of college athletics, and harmed the very people that academic institutions are responsible to protect: the student body.

When the UNC report was released in October 2014, the public was outraged, and media criticism was fierce: one volatile wag even suggested that the Tar Heels should receive the death penalty.  And yet…the NCAA investigation still drags on, with delay after delay sparked by new damning allegations.  Coach Roy Williams even pronounced recently that the foreboding scandal “cloud is beginning to lift.”

Well, bless his heart.

Let’s be clear:  An ACC and NCAA postseason from which the Louisville withdraws and in which UNC plays is a systemic sham, an ethical hypocrisy, and a blot on an already morally-challenged game.

It’s not too late.  On March 1, Margaret Spellings will step in as the new President of the University of North Carolina.  She’s no novice to policy, politics and public relations:  Spellings most prominently served as the U.S. Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush and was the leading champion of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative.  While some might disagree with her politics and priorities, no one can contest her commitment to educational integrity.

Spellings could do nothing better to launch her tenure on a note of integrity than to follow Jim Ramsey’s lead and announce a self-imposed ban on postseason play for the Tar Heels.

Carolina Dreaming?  Perhaps.  But as NCAA President Mark Emmert stated, the UNC scandal “is a case that potentially strikes at the heart of what higher education is about.”  And it’s high time that college sports takes its essential mission seriously, and halts the long, slow devolution of the term “student athlete” into a oxymoronic punch line.

Article written by Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller, The Recovering Politician (Twitter: @RecoveringPol), writes about the politics of sport and the sport of politics...and sometimes about bourbon. Jonathan has been elected twice as Kentucky's State Treasurer; practices as a crisis management attorney; authored three books on faith, public policy and crisis management; serves as a Contributor to The Daily Beast, played straight man on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; reached the final table of the World Series of Poker; and with his summer camp sweetheart, raised two remarkable twenty-something daughters.

24 Comments for Good Move, U of L. Your Turn, UNC

  1. KevinM
    8:49 pm February 7, 2016 Permalink

    Nice article JM, and it would be nice if someone could pick this up nationally.

    UNC is due a huge penalty, as ignorance by Roy is not an excuse.

  2. david8577
    9:02 pm February 7, 2016 Permalink

    What UNC did was horrible, but what UL did was orders of magnitude worse. I don’t think we need to group these guys together.

    • leon singleton
      10:15 pm February 7, 2016 Permalink

      Wrong, what North Carolina did was much worse then Louisville.

    • david8577
      12:33 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

      Haha, sure, giving credit for fake classes is worse that buying 17 year old prostitutes for players (some of whom were also minors), for recruits, and for recruits parents.

    • BowieWithaTurpin
      5:18 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

      Hundreds of students with fake grades, or fifteen dudes getting some?
      Ya, UNC is in the clear here.

    • RealCatsFan
      6:50 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

      I disagree, mainly because the UNC issue went on for two decades and involved MANY people through multiple levels of the university. It is the very definition of calculated, cynical cheating. They are trying to dodge the issue by saying it was not an extra benefit since it was available to all the students, and it is an academic issue, not athletic. Bullshit! As far as we currently know, hogate involved just a couple of rogue employees. Now if info comes to light that it goes higher, that changes things.

    • CATandMONKEY
      8:06 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

      Guess the word hoo ke r is not allowed on KSR. Oh, The irony!

    • Basteballer
      8:45 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

      Human trafficking trumps cheating in school every day.

    • david8577
      9:12 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

      17 year old hookers! You card fans are hilarious.

    • satcheluk
      10:14 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

      The crime at UL was worse, but the scope of what happened is much worse at UNC. You could argue UL was a rogue coach, but what happened at UNC took place over decades and with 1000’s of students, thus the penalties at UNC should be much more severe from the NCAA. Criminal charges may be warranted with the UL scandal.

  3. TorpedoVegas
    9:02 pm February 7, 2016 Permalink

    I feel that UL is continuing to do what they’ve always done, which is win at all costs. I have never seen a team self impose a post season ban with only a month and a half left to play. The only reason UL did this is so they can hang on to next years recruits. It’s pathetic.

    Any other school would have fired RP after the sex scandal, but they didn’t. Why? Because who else were they going to get on par with Rick? The rehiring of Bobby P…absolute desperation mode. He leaves them high and dry for the NFL and they end up taking him back. The fan base haaaaaaated him after he left and now they love him. Win. At. All. Costs. I hope the NCAA comes down hard and gives out their own post season ban for next season.

    Sorry, guys. I needed to rant.

  4. Willy
    9:43 pm February 7, 2016 Permalink

    UL has now admitted complicity & set itself up for more serious NCAA penalties, with the way the NCAA operates they’ll be so vengeful against UNC that they’ll throw the book at UL. That’ll teach UNC a lesson they’ll never forget!!!

    • Basteballer
      8:46 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

      Weak old joke.

    • Megan
      12:18 pm February 8, 2016 Permalink

      The joke was always a good one, but not well delivered here. Willy need to work on it here before taking it on the road.

  5. bosshogg24
    9:56 pm February 7, 2016 Permalink

    Stupidest decision a University could make, it won’t help with the NCAA or lighten their penalty! Why not go on to the ACC tournament, the Final Four and possibly a National Championship. The NCAA penalty won’t come down for six months or a year from now!

    • Basteballer
      8:46 am February 8, 2016 Permalink


  6. kyjohn
    10:03 pm February 7, 2016 Permalink

    Don’t bet on UNC doing anything that would punish their team.Afterall the cheated for 18 years and when the scandal first came out acted like they didn’t know anything about it.And the NCAA ,they can punish an Auburn for academic integrity and give SMU the death penalty,ban UK for two years,strip UMass of their final four and Memphis,but Carolina,no way.

  7. David Host
    1:08 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

    U of L should have applied their self-penalty to next season, giving anyone who wants to transfer the time and opportunity to do so. It just doesn’t seem fair to pull the rug out from this year’s team after they’ve worked hard toward the goal the coaching staff doubtlessly laid before them at the beginning of the season; playing as far into March as possible. Like most other decisions of this nature, it penalizes players today so as to minimize the impact upon coaches and athletic officials in the future (in particular, this decision seems calculated to prevent future damage to recruiting).

    There’s one reason why the NCAA will never penalize Carolina fully (and why Carolina will never completely accept responsibility) – doing so would irreparably tarnish the legacy of Dean Smith, as the fraudulent courses began during his tenure. Of course, the blatant deeds of an out of control booster at UCLA hasn’t noticeably harmed the perception of John Wooden, but the incessant P.R. campaign about “the Carolina Way” makes that feat significantly harder in Smith’s case.

    My opinion of Smith had already softened at the time of his passing – after all, anyone whose players continue to speak so highly of someone decades after their collegiate playing career ended must have done most things right. He nearly destroyed the game with the Four Corners, but in all fairness, he still won once the shot clock was implemented to stop him – and I cannot imagine someone who stood up so many times for racial equality and dignity condoning a type of academic fraud which perpetuates racial stereotypes. Yet, it began “on his watch,” and Carolina must come to terms with that fact.

    • CATandMONKEY
      8:04 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

      KSR favorite (ha,ha) Jeff Goodman stated that by applying the penalty to this year’s squad, UofL minimizes the impact of a ban on next year’s recruiting class. I can’t disagree with Goodman in this one case but disagree with UofL that this was the correct decision. The punishment should have leaned much heavier on the head coach and possibly others on staff while minimizing the impact on the current players who were not involved.

    • UK Big Board Update
      8:44 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

      They REALLY want that VJ King dude.

  8. buzzard
    1:15 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

    If Ramsey had any courage he’d make sure Rick Pitino was no longer UofL’s coach. And I agree with David Host ….it just doesn’t seem fair to pull the rug out from this year’s team after they’ve worked hard toward the goal the coaching staff doubtlessly laid before them at the beginning of the season…

  9. ukkatzfan
    6:51 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

    Good move ? They punish this years team because they are already committed. They can now try to tell recruits that they won’t have any more post season bans. If they had put a 2 year or just next year post season ban on the team, it would have hurt their recruiting and been a true punishment to the university. They also needed to fire Pitino and AD also. IMO, it was just smoke and mirrors.

    Back to Pitino, I have never seen or heard of any coach pine for a past team like he does with the Wildcats. That is the most pathetic thing. President should fire him for still having feelings for his ex.

    Good move ? No. That move is one of the chicken s##t variety.

  10. Basteballer
    8:48 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

    Roy can say whatever he’d like. Pitino told the Hicks kid transferring from Pitt that they expected a few scholarship restrictions and that’s about it. Coaches don’t always know what’s coming down the road.

  11. Suffering Fools
    11:15 am February 8, 2016 Permalink

    Leave it to the Heels to make U of L look ethical.