By Kyle Taylor, sports columnist
Damion Lee and Trey Lewis joined the powerhouse University of Louisville basketball team this year for a chance to experience March Madness. Lee and Lewis had propelled Louisville to a top-20 ranking and an invitation to the “Big Dance,” but that was before allegations about sex parties involving prior players and recruits derailed both players’ dreams.
The sex parties took place from 2010-2014, before Lee and Lewis transferred to Louisville, but are only now coming to light. The university took action to penalize itself by issuing a self-imposed postseason tournament ban before the NCAA had the chance to hand over potentially harsher repercussions. In the unlikely event that the NCAA does not dole out other punishments, that would be a blessing for the basketball program, which would ultimately escape unscathed.
I do not pity the Louisville program or head coach Rick Pitino, whose reputation may be forever tarnished. I certainly don’t sympathize with players on the team who may have actually been involved in the illegal recruitment actions. The two people who truly lose are Lee and Lewis, who will spend March Madness just as they always have – on their own couches. So, is it fair that current players are the ones who pay the highest price? I don’t think so.
Lee and Lewis graduated from Drexel University and Cleveland State University, respectively, each with another year of eligibility to play. Both were sought after by many teams and chose to go to Louisville with making it to March Madness as the driving factor. They are now Louisville’s top scorers, and their careers will end after they play out the remaining few games on the schedule.
It doesn’t seem fair to punish players who were not involved in the scandal. The ban was something that came as a shock to the Louisville team.
“When you’re a little kid, and you work so hard for something, and you get to that moment where you feel you finally have it, you can finally taste it, and it gets ripped away from you, it’s like you lost your best friend,” Damion Lee told reporters after finding out about the ban.
So, ultimately, the punishment hurts those that weren’t even involved in the crime. It would be like imposing a sentence on someone who simply visits the crime scene after the fact. While it is important to punish the orchestrators of it all, you cannot punish the athletes for doing what their coach directed them to do.
The decision makes complete sense if you think of what is best for the university. The school is trying to minimize an NCAA sentence by punishing itself in hopes of receiving a less injurious punishment. This is a tactic that Syracuse unsuccessfully tried last year.
The action that the school has taken just shows that teams in the NCAA are businesses, where the program comes first and the players come second. Schools will boast about how well student athletes are taken care of, but the truth is it is all cutthroat. I don’t have the right answer to what the repercussion should be, but I know that punishing those for things out of their control is the wrong one.
Fortunately, Louisville’s conference boasts some tough competition, and Lee and Lewis have played very well. So maybe there is enough evidence for them to be selected in the NBA draft without the extra March Madness exposure.
We won’t know if Louisville did the “smart” thing by disciplining itself until the NCAA releases its additional punishments for Rick Pitino and the Louisville basketball program. For the sake of the Louisville players, I hope it was worth it.