Remember how you used to imagine what life was like for your favorite college basketball player — balancing class attendance with road games and practice, all in order to help your school win a championship? Remember when players weren’t the targets of intense recruiting battles and didn’t expect anything more than an eduction in exchange for performing in athletics?
Welcome to 2015, the year that any remaining innocence was pronounced dead.
The bombshell day was Oct. 20, the day Katina Powell talked publicly, named names and dragged Louisville’s name through the national mud on ESPN, and got an entire sports-addicated country focused on the no-doubt account of a payment from a U of L basketball staffer to a self-proclaimed escort.
At this point, absolute proof beyond what’s already been unearthed won’t be necessary. If you still believe Katina Powell is making it all up, that someone at U of L wasn’t involved in paying women to entertain high schoolers on recruiting trips, then you’re looking through RED-colored glasses.
How can you, from this point forward, take any level of pride in the accomplishments of the Louisville basketball team, knowing what some of those involved in building the team were willing to do to get there? How can anyone get excited about the prospects of the coming basketball season, knowing that some of those involved may have been lured to this school with the help of sexual favors during a recruiting trip?
We’re never going to know the whole truth. But isn’t what has already been exposed about the seedy side of Louisville basketball enough to make regular fans run from the Yum! Center. Wouldn’t you turn your tickets in if you found out the performers you paid to see were enticed to lend the university their talents by prostitutes?
Much has been made of a Sports Illustrated article written soon after the current sex scandal was made public, with many criticizing the SI writer for linking U of L’s sex scandals — the Karen Sypher episode with Rick Pitino, the hiring of Bobby Petrino as football coach, and the now-refuted charges against basketball player Chris Jones of raping a coed.
But doesn’t it say something about the culture at the University? Do other schools have multiple charges against university athletic department representatives showing up in local media? Does escaping prosecution from law enforcement mean that the activity wasn’t morally wrong?
Sure, Jones was acquitted, but he did do something that he probably shouldn’t have been doing, and he certainly wasn’t welcomed back to the team. Pitino was the target of an extortion plot by a misguided woman, but he did cheat on his wife and had sex with Karen Sypher in a restaurant. And Petrino is walking a straight line now, but he did choose to have an affair with a subordinate in his previous job.
Most everyone who follows U of L athletics would acknowledge that some athletes walked a tightrope to stay eligible and out of jail — starting with Chane Behanan, the wayward hoops star who many believe had a drug problem, and including Devonte Fields, the TCU transfer who was welcomed at U of L despite an arrest for a domestic violence charge.
And this scandal has already rocked the core of the fan base, as it includes the darling of the 2013 national championship, Russ Smith, along with crowd favorite Montrezl Harrell.
Perhaps we pay too much attention to sports and idolize the athletes too much. Maybe being the nation’s top program for making money isn’t something to aspire to. It could be that the stakes have gotten too high, so much so that bad behavior is condoned, that the people in charge are too easily persuaded to look the other way. Should the reward for excellence in athletics include the kind of perks that seem to have been expected?
There’s no doubt a large percentage of the fan base is spending some time soul-searching about now, when not calling in to talk radio, and thinking about whether being a U of L sports fan is really worth it. There’s no salvaging the school’s reputation for at least a decade.
The “ick” factor isn’t coming off soon.