An Open Letter to Louisville Fans: Where is Your Line in the Sand?

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Dear fans of the University of Louisville athletics program,

Today has to be a hard day for you as the NCAA handed down stiff penalties to its basketball program in the wake of the prostitutes for recruits scandal.  As someone who lived in Louisville for four years, I came to understand the level of fan intensity you have for college basketball.  Granted, it took a while as I came from a school where college football is king.  I was there in 2013 when the Cardinals won the championship and pandemonium swept the city.  When Tom Jurich and the higher-ups at U of L decided to self-impose a postseason ban on the team after a wildly successful season last year, I knew it had to feel like a kick in the gut to you.  The penalties today had to feel like another kick, this time with steel-toed boots worn by Jean-Claude Van Damme.

While it’s a sad day for you, I do have to ask this:  Where is your line in the sand?  How much is enough?  Yes, you have a successful basketball program, a beautiful downtown arena, and a coach who knows the X’s and O’s.  But we all know the man is far from perfect and is not exactly the symbol of your great city that you know he should be.  Remember the scandal with Karen Sypher?  To me, it seemed the bigger story to those inside Jefferson County lines was that it was an extortion case on Sypher’s part.  And yes, Sypher was convicted of extortion and sentenced.  However, did you forget the details of that story?  How Pitino admitted to an extramarital affair with Sypher (having sex with her at Porcini’s while one of his aides relaxed in a booth nearby) and paid her money later for “health insurance?”   Now, Pitino has been suspended for the first five ACC games because his assistant paid prostitutes to woo recruits, and he is appealing that suspension. (Some inside analysts say that after hearing the testimony of former players and recruits, they are surprised the penalty isn’t far worse.)  Yes, Pitino did not order the prostitutes himself, but he hired the coach who did.  And with the small salary that coach was making, aren’t you even the least bit curious as to how he was able to afford all those prostitutes?

The penalties have been handed down and, instead of showing contrition for the actions of those he hired and using it as a learning lesson, Pitino and his bosses are fighting it.  They won’t deny that something happened, but they will scream how unfair it is to be punished like this.  I sincerely believe had they been more upfront about the whole thing earlier, the penalties would have been less severe.  Instead, there is a very real chance that games played with those recruits who received benefits from the prostitutes will be vacated.  That would include that beloved 2013 championship.  The NCAA is notorious for not showing enough teeth, unless there is some pretty damming evidence.  And in this case, there certainly seems to be.

Yet, so many of you still rush to support Pitino and stand by him, despite his past actions, despite the facts of what happened, and despite the testimony of former recruits. I ask you, why?  When do you say enough is enough?  How much goodwill does that one championship buy?  You can’t say it’s because he knows how to beat UK (a 2-8 record against them while coaching at U of L).  What has to happen for you to say “enough, you are a bad example to all that this city and University stand for?” While my alma mater, the University of South Carolina, does not have a championship in men’s basketball or football, I do know that if a coach had a 2-8 record against Clemson, he would be run out of Columbia in a hurry…and that’s without sex scandals!

You Louisville fans are an interesting bunch when it comes to undying loyalty. I dare say you take it to another level other college sports fans do not.  It’s not just with Pitino, but with coach Bobby Petrino as well.  If you want to recap all the ways Petrino has shat on his employers and fans, here’s a list. So far, he has remained at U of L. But do I need to remind you about the parable of the scorpion and the fox?  Despite the mountain of skullduggery that he brings everywhere he goes, he was welcomed back with open arms by the Cardinal faithful.  When I moved to Louisville in 2010, people there cursed his name up one side and down the other for the disaster he left the program in and how he stabbed everyone in the back.  Yet, the minute he went to coach for the Hilltoppers, U of L fans were counting the days down until he came back to coach the Cardinals.  Apparently, a high-powered offense more than makes up for being a snake in the grass who has repeatedly shown he gives less than two shits about everyone but himself.

Maybe it’s because Louisville is such a wonderful city that it makes the people who live there far more forgiving.  Maybe it’s the way the bourbon makes you turn a blind eye to the bad things and just concentrate on things that make you feel good.  Maybe Pitino just decided to take a different approach to the mantra of “Keep Louisville Weird.”  Who knows? All I know is that you defend Pitino and Petrino with every fiber of your being, even if you are some of the smartest people I have ever met; and that is something I need help understanding.  I do believe that either Pitino or Petrino could steal a car, race down Main Street in the opposite direction at 60 mph, do a line of blow off the dashboard while getting a hummer from an underage prostitute…all while carrying the Lord’s name in vain…and U of L fans would STILL defend them, as would U of L’s President and Athletic Director.

Fans of U of L, I do hope you have a line in the sand when it comes to this craziness.  I just hope you don’t have to cross the Ohio river with a scorpion on your back to get there.

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