Opinion: Louisville AD Should Understand Cheating

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Do you hear yourself, Tom Jurich?

Do you honestly believe the inside information your University of Louisville football coaches illicitly obtained before last month's game against Wake Forest is a trivial matter? Do you seriously think the real problem here is an issue that has brought "undue attention to our football staff" as it prepares for the Citrus Bowl?

No more than that?

What about personal integrity? What about fair play? What about coach Bobby Petrino's repeated insistence that he had no knowledge of his staff being privy to parts of Wake Forest's game plan?

There's no mention of any of that in the tone-deaf statement issued in Jurich's name Wednesday, not a smidgen of shame nor a note of apology from an athletics director already dealing with an NCAA investigation into recruiting sex parties in a campus dorm.

Instead, we get a news release crafted to convey that there's nothing of significance to see here. If Wake Forest did not use any of the new plays alleged turncoat Tommy Elrod shared with Louisville assistant Lonnie Galloway, it's no big deal, right?

"Among the communication were a few plays that were sent and then shared with our defensive staff," the statement reads. "None of the special plays were run during the course of the game. Our defense regularly prepares for similar formations every week in their normal game plan."

What this twisted rationalization omits is that Wake Forest had reason to think its game plan had been compromised on the Friday before its Nov. 12 loss at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium and had, therefore, lost the element of surprise.

To run trick plays against an opponent prepared for them is to invite disaster. To pretend that being in possession of another team's trade secrets is of no consequence if the other party decides to proceed without them is, at best, disingenuous.

Granted, the relative strengths of the two teams meant that no amount of razzle or dazzle was likely to change the outcome of a game that ended 44-12. The same could be said, though, of the 1972 presidential election and the Watergate burglary. Cheating does not become more permissible when the odds are already stacked in your favor.

Down deep, Jurich surely understands all that and how all this looks to the world outside of Jefferson County. He has to be at least a little chagrined that the newest member of the Atlantic Coast Conference has brought embarrassment on the league in successive years in its two highest-profile sports.

But part of the Jurich bargain, and one of the reasons for his enormous success, is that his coaches know they can count on his support in a crisis. Jurich has stuck his neck out so far for Petrino, basketball coach Rick Pitino and former football assistant Clint Hurtt that he could easily be confused for a giraffe. Expecting him to come down hard on coaches for accepting useful information from a double agent is like expecting 30 lashes from Santa Claus.

Whatever penalties might be in play most likely will be imposed by the ACC and/or the NCAA. For a month, the conference has shown no appetite to investigate, leaving the case to be resolved through Wake Forest's internal review.

Yet because Wake Forest is a private school and therefore free from public records requirements, its refusal to share all of its findings publicly make it incumbent upon the conference to get involved.

Since Wake Forest claims to have found multiple instances of Elrod's treachery, dating to 2014, it is essential that the ACC determine the full extent of his misdeeds, their impact, the identity of his conspirators and any possible quid pro quo.

Clearly, Louisville was not the only school willing to listen to Elrod's leaks. And it would be naive to think most coaches would reject the opportunity to gain an illicit competitive edge. The fact that Elrod was able to operate as a mole for more than two years before Wake Forest realized it had a security breach tells you that no coach was willing to turn him in and turn off its spying spigot.

That said, Louisville got caught, and there is bound to be some price to be paid for that. Shortly after Jurich acknowledged Elrod's communications with Galloway, the ACC tardily moved into platitude mode.

"Protecting competitive integrity is fundamental to the Atlantic Coast Conference," it said in a statement. "The conference office is in the process of obtaining the internal findings from Wake Forest University.

"Based on the information provided, and any other information obtained, the league office will perform its due diligence, and as necessary, additional discussions and actions will occur."

If the attention the Louisville coaches receive as a result is unflattering, it will not be undue.

Sullivan writes for The (Louisville) Courier Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network.

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December 15, 2016


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