Cardinal Basketball

A Brief History of Louisville Cardinal Basketball and the NCAA

Associated Press

The recent Notice of Allegations sent to the University of Louisville on October 17 wasn’t the first time the men’s basketball program had run afoul of the NCAA.

In Section C of the NOA, many potential aggravating and mitigating factors were highlighted. Per NCAA bylaws the Committee on Infractions (the ultimate decider of what, if any punishments the organization hand down) will consider these factors when deciding upon the appropriate actions to take against the Cards.

Included in the aggravating factors are past violations leveled against the school, both major and minor. Special attention was given to the Level I violations. Here is a quick recap of those violations:

January 11, 1957

The University of Louisville men’s basketball team was coached by head coach/athletic director Bernard “Peck” Hickman from 1944-1967. Hickman was a very successful coach, winning the NAIA championship in 1948, a NIT championship in 1956 and going far in several postseason tournaments including a NCAA Final Four appearance in 1959.

His career at Louisville was not without controversy however.

Per the official NCAA report, the University provided improper transportation from recruits’ homes to the school in September 1955 and paid for some of the athletes’ expenses. In addition, a local businessman employed two basketball players in his store and gave the athletes a bigger discount than other employees received. The businessman was deemed a representative of the university due to his assistance in the recruitment of the players with actual employees of the school (what would most likely be called a booster today).

The NCAA also censured and reprimanded the program for not taking defensive actions to prevent violations like this from occurring.

The Cards were placed on probation for two years and were ineligible to compete in the NCAA or affiliated postseason tournaments for the 1957 season. In addition to UofL, the NCAA also punished Auburn and Florida at the same time for similar infractions. They were the harshest penalties the NCAA had ever given out, part of a campaign to crack down on recruiting violations, what some in the press called the “get tough” policy.

Hickman would remain the AD until 1971. One of his last acts was hiring Denny Crum.

November 20, 1996

Cards fans know all about the accomplishments of Hall of Fame coach Crum, which included two NCAA championships and several Final Four appearances. But his tenure saw two high-profile run-ins with the NCAA.

The main issue with these infractions was the use of two cars by player Samaki Walker in 1995. The program discovered that a 1991 Honda Accord with a parking pass assigned to Walker had received several citations while parked on campus. Walker believed his father had purchased the car, but the team discovered that this was not the case.

The NCAA concluded that Anthony Huff of the National American Trucking Association, where Walker worked part time that summer, provided the player with the vehicle to drive in the Fall. Huff had also given Walker a 1995 Ford Explorer to drive over the summer, and paid for the removal of a stereo that had been installed. Huff had also facilitated insurance for the vehicles and paid the parking tickets.

After the team began its investigation, Huff and Walker’s father went to great lengths to make it look like the father had purchased the Accord earlier that year. This included creating false insurance cards, bank deposit slips, and other documents. Walker’s dad and employees of Huff later admitted to the deception.

The NCAA found that Walker had no knowledge of the car’s real owner, but the program was still in violation due to the impermissible benefits received.

The NCAA also discovered a myriad of other improper benefits and recruiting violations. These included cash and meals. Current and former assistant coaches also made several improper contacts with recruits and their family members and coaches. This activity was found to not be immediately reported to school administration once discovered.

The program self-imposed several penalties. The assistant who committed most the violations, Larry Gay, had his salary frozen and was prohibited from recruiting for almost a year.

Gay would later resign, and the team would not hire a replacement for five months as part of their self-imposed penalties. The school would also implement many more procedures for the oversight of the athletic program, including the recruiting process.

Due to the severity of the infractions and the involvement of athletic staff, the NCAA would put the basketball team on two years’ probation and request several other changes in the athletic program. The NCAA would also give the program “repeat violator” status, which would come back to haunt them a few years later.

September 22, 1998

The men’s basketball program would find themselves before the NCAA Committee on Infractions less than two years later. This time because of the payment of a hotel room for a player’s father by an assistant coach.

Nate Johnson played for the Cards from 1996-2000. Originally from New Jersey, his father moved with him to Louisville when he first enrolled. Initially staying in the dorms, Johnson’s dad would later move to a local motel. After learning that the father was behind on payments then-assistant coach Scooter McCray, who along with his brother Rodney were members of the 1980 Championship team, gave the motel his credit card as a backup for any charges. The hotel would charge a total of almost $3,000 on the card between September 1996 and February 1997, when McCray would dispute the charges and Johnson’s father would pay for them himself.

The NCAA initially labeled the violations as secondary but would later upgrade them to major when final punishments were handed out. The program had their total scholarships reduced by one for the 99-00 and the 00-01 seasons and, due to their “repeat violator” status, were banned from playing in the 1999 postseason. McCray was also given a show-cause classification, requiring him and any institution hiring him to appear before a committee.

The school would appeal the ruling, stating that they had been told that the violations would be secondary and not major in nature, which affected their handling of the case. In an unprecedented step, the NCAA agreed. The infractions were reduced to secondary status, which did not trigger the repeat violator penalties, and reversed its postseason ban just four weeks before the Conference USA tournament was scheduled to begin. All other penalties were upheld.

As part of the same report several punishments were leveled against the women’s volleyball program including loss of scholarships, official recruiting visits and a show-cause penalty for an assistant coach. This was on top of self-imposed punishments that including voiding of all the wins from the 1996 season.

Lesser violations

In addition to the more major violations, numerous unspecified minor infractions were also mentioned in the report. Almost these were self-reported by the University, and were listed as mitigating factors in the NOA.

Per the NCAA, the university revealed 50 violations at Level III or below, six involving the men’s basketball team. Perhaps the most famous of these were two separate Level III violations surrounding a game of laser tag last April featuring some players and recruits. This event got nationwide attention, for the perceived frivolousness of the violations as much as the violations themselves.

The NCAA will not release their final rulings and report on the team’s current allegations until next spring. What impact these past infractions will have on the programs current situation is unknown.

While this season appears to be safe, players, coaches and fans will continue to await future sanctions that might be upcoming so that the latest chapter of the Cards basketball team and the NCAA can finally be closed.

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