The Louisville Cardinals shocked the college basketball world Friday by announcing a self-imposed ban that will keep them out of the 2016 NCAA tournament.
Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports first reported the news and added more context:
The announcement of self-imposed sanctions came with little warning or indication that the university was considering taking action this year. A formal Notice of Allegations from the NCAA was not expected before the end of the 2015-16 season. If Louisville had wanted to get through this season and take its chances with the NCAA in 2016-17, it could have.
Louisville held a press conference regarding the decision Friday, and Nicole Auerbach of USA Today shared a quote from school president James Ramsey: "It's reasonable to conclude that violations have occurred in men’s basketball program in the past."
As for Pitino, he said, "This penalty is quite substantial. It comes with complete shock to me," per SportsCenter.
Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports shared another of Pitino's quotes:
"This is a decision as harsh as any I've seen, but I'm a solider in this army." — Pitino, maybe hinting he didn't support the mid-year ban.— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) February 5, 2016
Crawford passed along a statement from ACC commissioner John Swofford:
Forde noted the Cardinals will also not play in the ACC tournament, and the ban will end their streak of nine straight Big Dances, which is the sixth-longest active streak in the nation.
ESPN Stats & Info put the punishment into perspective:
Last time Rick Pitino didn’t coach in NCAA tourney- 2006 (NIT).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 5, 2016
Last time Pitino didn’t coach in postseason- 1991 (Kentucky ineligible).
Greer reported, "the school informed the team's players in a meeting early Friday afternoon, a source close to the program said. … The coaches told the players they only had nine games left, another source said, which is the remainder of the regular season."
Pitino said "painful is an understatement" when discussing meeting his players about the punishment, per Tim Sullivan of the Courier-Journal.
As Greer noted, Louisville is still under NCAA investigation because of "a woman's claims that she and other escorts were paid thousands of dollars and given game tickets in exchange for dancing for and having sex with U of L basketball players and recruits from 2010-14."
Forde delved into more detail:
That investigation began in October after Louisville madam Katina Powell wrote a tell-all book, "Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen," alleging that former U of L staffer Andre McGee paid for strippers to dance for and have sex with Louisville recruits and players over a period of four years. Some of the alleged transactions and interactions took place in the players' dormitory.
Jon Solomon of CBS Sports also commented on the news and Pitino: "Pitino says he still can't figure out why the actions took place with escorts. 'It doesn't make sense.' Huh? Sure it does."
The coach has routinely denied knowledge of the parties, and on Saturday, ESPN's Dick Vitale reported Pitino had taken and passed a lie detector test regarding the incidents.
Pitino is just the latest legendary coach to miss a postseason because of punishments in the last year. Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange missed the 2015 ACC and NCAA tournaments, and Larry Brown and SMU will miss the 2016 postseason. All three coaches are active Hall of Famers, and Forde opined that the Louisville ban "sullies" Pitino's reputation.
The timing is particularly devastating for Louisville and its fans considering the Cardinals are 18-4 and No. 19 in the country in the Associated Press rankings. What's more, they are fresh off an upset of No. 2 North Carolina on Monday that propelled Pitino's team to second place in the ACC at 7-2 and a game behind the 8-1 Tar Heels.
Louisville appeared primed to challenge for an ACC crown and a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament, especially since only two of its final nine regular-season games are against currently ranked foes.
There is also a human side to this punishment. Damion Lee and Trey Lewis are both graduate transfers who came to Louisville with the hopes of finally playing in an NCAA tournament in their final collegiate seasons. Lee came from Drexel, while Lewis arrived from Cleveland State. David Gardner of Sports Illustrated weighed in on their basketball fates:
Damion Lee and Trey Lewis came to Louisville to have a chance to play in the postseason. They do not deserve this punishment.— David Gardner (@byDavidGardner) February 5, 2016
Pitino said Friday that the team "stood and embraced Lee and Lewis when he told them the penalty," per Crawford.
Jeff Greer of the Courier-Journal shared a picture of the scene:
Damion Lee and Trey Lewis meet with the press with their teammates behind them. pic.twitter.com/5DO5nqZtY6— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_cj) February 5, 2016
"We both feel like we don’t deserve this, this team doesn’t deserve this," Lewis said, per Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated.
"Trey and I were truly devastated," Lee said, per Crawford. "For us to come from where we came from, to put ourselves in this position once we heard the news."
Lee (17 points per night) and Lewis (12.1 points) are Louisville's top two scorers and have carried this offense for large stretches of the season. While they will not get the opportunity to grace the screens of basketball fans across the country in March Madness, they still have the chance to potentially boost their NBA stocks with strong finishes.
That is the best Louisville can ask for at this point.