If you stop supporting the University of Louisville, you'll hurt us all | Joseph Gerth

Joseph Gerth
Courier Journal
The U of L Cardinal mascot gets the pep rally crowd even more pumped before the Illinois-Louisville semifinal game in St. Louis, Mo. Shot April 2, 2005

It may sound counterintuitive, but now is the time for University of Louisville fans and alumni to rally around their athletic teams, their academic programs, the students and faculty.

The future of the school and the city depends on it.

The cancer is gone. Cut out Wednesday morning in about 10 minutes worth of meetings during which interim President Greg Postel essentially fired basketball coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

It needed to be done. Absolutely.

But after embarrassment after embarrassment in the basketball program — including this involvement in what appears to be the biggest basketball scandal since the 1950s point-shaving affairs — why should you support the university?

Simply because you should.

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Failure of the KFC Yum Center — which is a very real possibility if folks stop attending Louisville basketball games — hurts us all. Everyone.

This affair has already harmed both the city’s and the school’s reputations. If we’re going to come through this in one piece, we’re going to need something to rally behind.

Why not U of L?

If your support for U of L was because of nothing more than 40 minutes on the basketball court 40 times a year, good riddance. You weren’t a real supporter of the school to begin with — just a fan boy.

But the rest of you, the university needs you like never before.

A packed house at the KFC Yum Center for the UK and U of L basketball game Wednesday night. Dec. 21, 2016

There will be tough days ahead.

The school was already going through an unprecedented crisis.

State funding for Louisville and other state schools has been slashed over the years. Members of the past administration had looted the university’s fundraising arm of millions of dollars in payouts for themselves and their friends.

The governor’s ham-handed attempt to reorganize the school's board of trustees left its accreditation in jeopardy.

The basketball program was already headed for probation because it was paying for hookers for teenage recruits.

But here’s the good news.

The university appears to be on track for reaccreditation, unless we’re in for another big surprise in the near future.

And even though Gov. Matt Bevin was wrong to fire the old board of trustees, the current board appears to be functioning well under chairman David Grissom.

(Grissom, however, needs to be reminded to drop the secrecy crap — he’s no longer chairman of a small, private liberal arts college in Danville. He’s chairman of a major public research university and is required by law to be transparent.)

University of Louisville Interim President Greg Postel, center, huddled with media relations director John Karman, left, and chair of the board of trustees David Grissom just before he announced that athletic director Tom Jurich and men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino have been placed on administrative leave from the school.  
Sep. 27, 2017

The trustees are working to clean up the mess that was the university’s foundation as evidenced by the forensic audit that laid bare the mismanagement that had gone on in the past.

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Basketball will have its troubles.

It’s doubtful the NCAA will issue the death penalty, a one-year ban on playing basketball. It doesn’t like to do that because it costs the NCAA money, too.

But there will be probation and tough times ahead. U of L has already lost two major recruits because of this mess. More players will likely leave.

That’s what happened after the University of Kentucky got crosswise with the NCAA back in the late 1980s. But many Wildcat fans who were around then will tell you that the next three years — during two of which UK was on probation — were some of the most joyous years in UK history.

The team was full of the kids who really wanted to be there. They were kids who had grown up dreaming of playing for UK and who led an amazing rebirth that culminated with what many believe was the greatest basketball game in NCAA history — its 1992 overtime loss to Duke.

It can happen here.

Louie entertains the crowd as the Cardinals take on Miami on Sunday at the KFC Yum! Center. Jan. 15, 2017

If you’re a donor and don’t want to give to the athletic department now, I get it. Too many people were giving too much to athletics anyway. Redirect your money elsewhere.

Between the state budget cuts and the sloppy management at the foundation, the university itself is in dire financial trouble trying to deal with a nearly $50 million budget shortfall.

Give to the school — that’s what this is about anyway, isn’t it?

Earmark it for certain programs.

There’s a bunch of kids at the Cardinal, U of L’s student newspaper, who face the loss of a great learning lab after U of L said it could no longer afford $60,000 per year to advertise in it. Fund them.

If you went to sporting events before, keep going to them.

The kids who remain behind on the basketball team did nothing wrong — they’re the victims. Support them.

If you do that, maybe U of L, the city and the Yum Center can survive.

It might seem like a mid-court heave with time running out, but it’s worth a shot, anyway.

Joseph Gerth's column runs on most Sundays and at various times throughout the week. He can be reached at 502-582-4702 or by email at jgerth@courier-journal.com.

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