Opinion: Louisville's Punishment Won't Deter Others

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Kevin Ware summed it up perfectly.

"Still got this fat a** ring which means my guys definitely won a chip, if I'm not mistaken of course," Ware tweeted early Tuesday afternoon.

The guard on the 2012-13 Louisville men's basketball team — the one best remembered for breaking his leg in horrific fashion during the 2013 Midwest Regional final — was talking about the 2013 NCAA title game, of course.

On Tuesday, the NCAA finally wrapped up the Louisville basketball sex scandal, announcing that the Cardinals' 2013 title — an 82-76 win over Michigan — would be vacated. All in all, Louisville must vacate 123 wins from the 2011-12 to 2014-15 seasons, including the 2013 championship and a trip to the 2012 Final Four. The university will also have to pay back a few million dollars of shared NCAA tournament conference revenue. This marks the first time in modern history a basketball title has been vacated.

Some of you are probably thinking, "The NCAA finally got it right, and brought down the hammer!" Me, I'm shrugging.

Yes, vacating wins and removing a banner — though evidently not asking for championship rings back — is a big deal. There's no denying that. But I doubt it'll force other programs across the country to change, too.

As we all know, there's a seedy underbelly in college athletics — it, of course, extends to football, too, but seems to be more predominant and well known in hoops. As basketball analyst Seth Davis tweeted, "We now have our first vacated NCAA title. If you think about it, it's amazing it took this long."

No kidding. What'll be more amazing: If it starts happening with regular frequency.

The NCAA has long been considered a toothless authority. It has a tendency to overstep its bounds (such as in the Penn State case) and bungle investigations that should be a slam-dunk for major violations (such as the North Carolina case). This is a case it got right, despite the objections from Louisville's administration. But I'm not convinced it'll result in a widespread changing of practices at programs that are also skirting the rules.

The bottom line is coaches and programs will keep cheating and blurring the lines — though hopefully future cheating and violations aren't so egregious as to involve escorts — because it's rare that they get caught. The NCAA doesn't have wiretapping or subpoena power, so no one truly fears them.

Rick Pitino's legend is fully tarnished with this ruling, but to those paying attention, it already was; the ship on Pitino being some upstanding character full of moral virtue sailed a long time ago.

The real question is, what's next? The looming FBI investigation seems far from over, and Louisville is tangled up in that, too. Brian Bowen never played a game for Louisville, but his recruitment could lead to even more sanctions for the Cardinals, if the NCAA can ever get its arms around that case. (The NCAA has not responded to multiple USA TODAY requests for comment about when, exactly, it'll be starting its own investigation of the FBI's findings.)

It's been reported that the bribery scandal uncovered by the FBI can and will dramatically alter the landscape of college hoops when all the dust settles. I'll believe it when it happens.

Just like I'll believe teams will stop cheating when more titles are vacated.

And considering how long it took for the first one, I anticipate it'll be business as usual for a long time in college basketball.

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February 21, 2018


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