University of Louisville has lost its 2013 national championship banner
The University of Louisville has lost its 2013 national championship banner.
The NCAA's Infractions Appeals Committee announced on Tuesday that it upheld the earlier ruling that Louisville's men's basketball program must vacate 123 wins, including the 2013 title and 2012 Final Four appearance, as punishment in the school's escort sex scandal.
It is the first time in modern Division I men's basketball history that a championship was vacated.
"I cannot say this strongly enough: We believe the NCAA is simply wrong to have made this decision," interim university President Greg Postel said.
The appeals panel also upheld a financial penalty that requires Louisville to repay shared revenue from the Cards' 2012-15 NCAA Tournament appearances, including future revenue shared from those seasons.
Postel estimated the "bulk" of that punishment to be worth around $600,000, much lower than some previous estimates.
"A complete accounting of this financial penalty shall be included in the institution's annual compliance reports," the written ruling said.
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The decision, released via the NCAA's website, was the final step in an infractions process that lasted more than two years after Katina Powell's book, "Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen," prompted an NCAA investigation in October 2015.
The NCAA's enforcement staff found that former Louisville director of basketball operations Andre McGee paid Powell and other women thousands of dollars and gave them game tickets in exchange for stripteases and sex acts for players and recruits.
The 40 alleged acts added up to a Level I violation of NCAA rules, the gravest offense in the NCAA's penalty structure.
Louisville self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2016 ACC and NCAA tournaments and later added self-imposed recruiting sanctions after confirming the allegations.
"The university, under prior leadership, never made excuses for what took place," Postel said. "There was immediate recognition of the facts, the issuance of an apology, serious self-imposed penalties, extraordinary cooperation with the investigation that followed and the strengthening of and creation of policies and procedures to make sure that this never happened again.
"Under the NCAA's own rules, such cooperation should have been a factor in determining the severity of the punishment. Instead, it was ignored."
Vince Tyra, the interim Louisville athletic director, said he was unlikely to support the school challenging the NCAA's ruling through the legal system because it wouldn't be "worth dipping into the piggy bank."
The school could "theoretically" sue the NCAA, Postel said, but the subject hasn't been broached by university officials.
Legal experts who have studied Louisville's case said it would be difficult for the school to win a lawsuit against the NCAA because it never contested the organization's investigative or deliberative actions or tactics.
Instead, Louisville focused its arguments on specifics within the case without disputing that violations occurred. The appeals committee noted in its ruling that Louisville agreed the violations "were reprehensible and inexcusable," quoting the school from the oral argument transcript from the Dec. 13 appeal hearing.
"In its review of the case, the committee agreed with the Committee on Infractions that the involved student-athletes knew or should have known they were receiving improper benefits in violation of NCAA legislation," the appeals panel wrote.
In June 2017, two months after a hearing in Cincinnati, the Committee on Infractions in its ruling added more penalties to Louisville's self-imposed punishments, ordering the school to repay shared NCAA Tournament revenue from 2012-15 and any future payments, which will continue through 2021, related to those appearances.
The panel also included the vacation of records.
"The COI has not previously dealt with a case like this," the Committee on Infractions said in the original ruling. "... The violations were serious, intentional, numerous and occurred over multiple years."
Tyra said the school has not yet determined where it will store the removed banners which had already been removed from the KFC Yum Center rafters as of Tuesday afternoon.
Louisville's final home game this season is set for next Thursday against second-ranked Virginia. The women's team plays Virginia on Thursday.
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Louisville focused its appeal on the shared tournament revenue and the vacation of wins, saying the proposed punishments were excessive and "draconian." The school accepted four years of probation for its men's hoops program, plus scholarship reductions and the lesser financial penalties.
Former coach Rick Pitino was also suspended for five conference games. He originally appealed the suspension but did not continue pursuing it after he was fired by the school in October in the wake of Louisville being linked to the FBI's investigation into college basketball.
Pitino is expected to release a statement on the appeals committee's decision on Wednesday.
Pitino's former players weighed in Tuesday on Twitter.
Kevin Ware, who broke his leg in Louisville's regional final victory over Duke and became a national story, tweeted, "Still got this fat ass ring which means my guys definitely won achip, if I’m not mistaken of course."
Tim Henderson, who made two critical 3-pointers in Louisville's Final Four win over Wichita State, posted a photo of his team celebrating its title to his Twitter account.
"This is where your emotions move to sad," Tyra said. "I'm sad for our players. I'm certainly sad for our staff and those who helped create the success and our fans in particular who have been passionate about these teams and since then.
"It's awful to have to go through."