After Louisville's NCAA punishment, who actually won the 2013 title?

Dan WetzelColumnist

The confetti fell and the nets got clipped but who exactly won the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship is still in dispute.

It was Louisville. Now it may not be.

The NCAA ruled on Thursday that the Cardinals were guilty of a slew of violations stemming from the hiring of strippers and prostitutes for three players, 15 recruits, two non-scholastic coaches and someone’s friend who was hanging around a recruiting party on one of the nights. A former assistant coach was found guilty of “arranging striptease dances and sex acts for prospects” and head coach Rick Pitino was cited for “failing to monitor.”

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The NCAA has a lot of stupid rules, but it’s difficult to find fault in outlawing the repeated purchase of strippers and hookers for recruits and players at wild parties in the team dorm.

This isn’t a gray area.

“Without dispute the rules do not allow … for the arrangement of strip teases and sex acts,” Carol Cartwright, the president emeritus of Kent State and Bowling Green, and the chair of the Committee on Infractions said Thursday.

One of the myriad penalties the NCAA slapped down on the Cardinals was this – “a vacation of basketball records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible from December 2010 and July 2014.”

Smack dab in the middle of that time frame: Six Louisville victories in the 2013 NCAA tournament, including an 82-76 win over Michigan in the title game.

That led to a Louisville national title celebration – this being a family website, we won’t begin to speculate on the details of that shindig.

Michigan’s Trey Burke (3) walks off the court as Louisville celebrate its win during the NCAA college basketball championship game on April 8, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP)
Michigan’s Trey Burke (3) walks off the court as Louisville celebrate its win during the NCAA college basketball championship game on April 8, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP)

So did Louisville officially win the game? Not sure yet. The NCAA is allowing Louisville to identify which games ineligible players competed in and wants the Cardinals to send that information back to the NCAA. Once that process is completed, the NCAA will analyze the games and double check.

If it includes the 2013 title game, then Louisville would have to vacate the championship. Unanswered is if it included games prior to the title game.

This seems ridiculous since the NCAA knows exactly which players were involved here and could easily scan the box scores. That’s the way it does it though.

“It is standard practice,” Cartwright said of allowing the school to sort through the games and determine if they are in question.

The Cardinals just received the ruling and have a 30-day window in which to appeal. The NCAA would have 30 to respond. Then there are 15 more days for a ruling.

Pitino vowed on Thursday to “exercise his right to appeal the finding and penalty.” So it may be awhile until we know.

OK, but let’s say Louisville identifies a player that received a so-called “extra benefit” and did, indeed, compete in the title game, which is what Chuck Smrt, Louisville’s lawyer, said is the case.

If the NCAA then ruled the Cards officially didn’t win the game, did Michigan?

No. Per the NCAA, no one would have won the championship game or the championship.

On this subject, here is the longstanding NCAA logic (an oxymoron, but bear with us).

Louisville’s victory would have been vacated, thus the Cardinals didn’t win. The game was not forfeited though, so Michigan still lost the game. This, mind you, is a loss in a game where there was no winner.

Under the same system, Duke, which lost to Louisville in the Elite Eight, would not be able to say it made an appearance in the Final Four. Or, in a truly intriguing concept, North Carolina A&T, which lost by 31 to Louisville in the first round, couldn’t claim to be the first No. 16 seed to ever record a victory over a No. 1 seed (the Cards).

Essentially, nothing would have happened. Except there will be no refunds on Final Four tickets. And across America old office pools are being dug up and recalculated – do you get credit for a Louisville victory if it didn’t win?

As for Michigan, it may be able to point to its 61-56 triumph over Syracuse in the Final Four and pronounce itself “the final team in college basketball to record a victory.”

That might read clunky on a banner, but so what, it’s something.

And this is Michigan, after all, the program that was forced by the NCAA to take two Final Four banners hung for the Fab Five era down from the Crisler Center rafters for its own sanctions. Now it could put a new one up because another school was forced to take a banner down due to sanctions.

Welcome to college athletics, where everything that goes around comes around, and you never really know who won the title until all the prostitution records are sorted through.

It’s quite possible in this case – as is often the case with the NCAA – no one won.

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