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Feinstein: Louisville Deserves Bashing, But Could Be First Of Many To Fall

February 21, 2018 - 11:52 am

There was a lot of celebration on Tuesday when the NCAA announced that the University of Louisville will become the first school to have an NCAA basketball title vacated.

The NCAA often uses vacating as a means to punish wayward programs, in part because it knows its TV “partners” — who fund them — won’t be affected. They will either act as if nothing happened or — a la Dick Vitale — pin the blame on Andre McGee, who was a low-level assistant coach when the whole “madam” scandal went down several years back.

Remember the line in All the President’s Men, where the great Hal Holbrook, playing Mark Felt (then known only as “Deep Throat”), looks at Robert Redford — playing Bob Woodward — and says: “You don’t really think this was all the work of little Don Segretti do you?”

Segretti was the lawyer hired by the Nixon campaign to play dirty tricks on the Democrats. As we all now know, the Watergate scandal, as Deep Throat said later, led “everywhere.”

At Louisville, Rick Pitino has never accepted blame for anything that’s gone on in his program — the “madam” scandal or the more recent payoff scandal that finally got Pitino fired.

So, don’t get me wrong, I have no sympathy for Louisville, especially when the interim president is bleating about the fact that there is “no precedent” for the penalty.

That’s sort of the point, President Obvious. You have to really screw up to get a national championship vacated. The NCAA has never had a problem with vacating those who don’t win. In fact, in 1971, it vacated two Final Four teams — Villanova and Western Kentucky. John Calipari, whose Kentucky minions are dancing for joy today, had Final Four teams vacated at Massachusetts and Memphis. To Calipari’s credit, he joked about it several years ago. When he turned 52, he announced that he was actually 50 because the NCAA had vacated two of his birthdays.

Louisville has become a dumpster fire in recent years with a basketball coach who wasn’t held accountable for anything because he was a truly great coach and an athletic director who hired Bobby Petrino as football coach even after Petrino defrauded the state of Arkansas by putting his girlfriend (mistress?) on the state payroll.

And the reaction to Tuesday’s ruling hardly covered the school in glory — yet again. Besides the president’s whining, there was guard Kevin Ware, who became Louisville’s inspiration during that 2013 Final Four after suffering a gruesome leg break in the Elite Eight, saying, “I still got this fat-ass ring.”

Good for him. Classy. Ware can also come back to Louisville for the rest of his life and look at the blank spot where the national title banner — and the 2012 Final Four banner — used to hang.

Louisville deserves being piled on, but there are a lot of folks living in glass houses who better be careful about how many rocks they toss.

Yahoo.com’s Pete Thamel reported last week that a source he trusts has told him that the fallout from the FBI investigation — the one that got Pitino — is going to be massive. Thamel wrote that there are Hall-of-Fame coaches who will be taken down and more schools that will have banners taken down.

Thamel’s a first-class reporter. He’s not a throw-it-up-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks guy like so many of these so-called TV “insiders” are.

When the FBI investigation will end or be made public no one knows. Some have speculated they’re waiting until just before Selection Sunday to drop their latest set of bombs. I tend to doubt that if only because I don’t really think the FBI cares about the NCAA Tournament, but I do have this evil fantasy about watching CBS and TBS try to dance around saying anything about any school outed by the FBI while they’re trumpeting all the outstanding “student-athletes” on the floor.

It isn’t as if the notion that top programs cheat is anything new. Or that kids, or the people surrounding them, have their hands out. A lot of it goes back to the corruption the sneaker companies have brought to all of college athletics.

Let’s face it, Phil Knight OWNS the University of Oregon and he is a major stockholder in a lot of big-time schools, among them my alma mater, Duke. That’s why all those big-name schools went running out to Portland last November to play in the so-called, “PK-80 Tournament,” which was Knight’s tribute to himself in honor of his 80th birthday.

It’s also why, in the weeks following the FBI announcement, men like Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim, both of whom I have great respect for, fell all over themselves talking about all the good the shoe companies have done for basketball.

That is, to use the politest word I can think of, garbage. The shoe companies — all of them — have corrupted basketball at every level. Nike isn’t any more guilty than the rest of them, it’s just been making money for itself better and longer than the rest.

The claim that shoe-company money has allowed players to travel and participate against top players is a joke. Players got to play against top competition long before the shoe companies came along, they just didn’t travel to Las Vegas to do it. Or Orlando or Augusta, Georgia — which is a great July tourist spot. They weren’t put on display for coaches and they weren’t influenced by the shoe company reps about where to go to school.

The late, great Howard Garfinkel, the man who invented summer basketball, ran the 5-Star camp for years without ever putting numbers on players, without paying anyone to get a kid to show up at his camp and WITH actual teaching during that week. He didn’t name his camp “The ABCD” camp and try to convince people he was educating the players. It was a basketball camp where you learned basketball.

If you played in a summer league, you played for your high school team and your high school coach, not for some skank AAU coach with his hand out. (Note to AAU coaches: I know some of you are legit so don’t pitch a fit; but a LOT of you know I’m talking about you).

The shoe companies have helped make coaches like Krzyzewski and Boeheim — and plenty of others — rich, so no wonder they’d defend them.

It may well be that college sports is The Roman Empire, that it needs to crumble completely before it can re-emerge from the rubble. There’s no doubt that the leadership — and I’m talking about presidents more than the NCAA itself — have fiddled while Rome has burned because the money is still coming in regularly.

The self-righteousness of the NCAA basketball committee is symbolic of the whole thing.

Years ago, during the annual Final Four meeting between members of the basketball committee and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, several of us were complaining about the 10:30 local time starts that have proliferated in recent years to make TV happy.

A woman named Lynn Hickey, then the athletic director at the University of Texas-San Antonio, looked at us the way the folks at Downton Abbey looked at their house staff.

“What you don’t understand,” she said in the most haughty tone she could muster, “is that everything we do is for the student-athletes.”

Right, Lynn, those 10:30 starting times are for the “student-athletes.”

I don’t mean to pick on Hickey — okay, I do — but her attitude sums up everything that’s wrong with college athletics. No one in power is ever wrong. Pitino is still claiming to be blameless. Louisville people still have their “fat-ass rings.” People from schools that are probably just as guilty as Louisville are laughing and pointing their fingers at Louisville.

The FBI is lurking, folks. The Ides of March are near — literally and figuratively. Et tu FBI?

John Feinstein’s most recent non-fiction book, “The First Major—The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup,”—has been a New York Times bestseller for four months. His latest Young Adult book, “Backfield Boys,” was selected as one of The Library Guild’s best books of 2017.