Saturday, February 06, 1999

Louisville eligible for tournament

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In an unprecedented move, the NCAA on Friday overturned a postseason ban, giving Louisville's basketball team a chance to play in a March tournament this season.

        An NCAA appeals committee cited “procedural error” in the case of NCAA violations by former Louisville assistant coach Scooter McCray.

        The committee said Louisville and McCray had not been adequately warned about the seriousness of the violations, and that may have altered their defense before the NCAA.

        “This has been something that's been held over our head, and we've been penalized in a lot of ways,” Louisville coach Denny Crum said. “But we're happy now that it's over, that it's all behind us.”

        In announcing the punishment, infractions committee chair Bonnie Slatton said the tournament ban — rarely used as a punishment in recent years — was imposed because the Cardinals were considered repeat offenders and that the McCray case constituted a major violation.

        However, Louisville had been informed by then-NCAA investigator Rich Hilliard and by its own counsel that the violation was not “major” and repeat offender status would not be an issue. When the school had its hearing before the infractions committee in August, those descriptions were not corrected by the infractions committee members.

        Robert Stein, chairman of the appeals committee, said Louisville should have known what it was facing either before the hearing or as it was defending itself.

        So there you have it. Louisville is back in the running for the NCAA Tournament and will be permitted to compete in the Conference USA tournament March 3-6 in Birmingham, Ala., because the NCAA's enforcement division and infractions committee mishandled its case.

        “I'm happy we can go on with the season,” said Cameron Murray, a senior guard given one last chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. “It's another emotional high for us after our win last night.”

        The Cardinals beat Conference USA rival Memphis 89-76 Thursday.

        Louisville is 11-7 with eight games remaining and must visit UNC Charlotte (Feb. 11), Cincinnati (Feb. 21) and Southern Mississippi (Feb. 27) along with playing home games against Georgia Tech (Feb. 14) and UAB (Feb. 25).

        They most likely would need to win at least six of the final eight, which would give them 17 victories entering the Conference USA Tournament, to be in decent shape for earning an at-large bit. However, the Cards were ranked No. 25 in the Ratings Percentage Index at the close of last week and are considered to have one of the nation's most difficult schedules.

        They also have an opportunity to win the automatic bid that goes to the champion of the C-USA tournament.

        “I definitely feel (we have a renewed sense of purpose),” said Woodward product Eric Johnson, a senior. “A lot of guys are going to be more motivated now ... Now that we have a chance to get to the tournament, it's going to make them work that much harder.”

        “It's just fortunate that it came out on our side,” forward Nate Johnson said. “I knew that if it didn't happen, the guys still wanted to play. It's a boost for us. We just need to go forward.”


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