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Louisville basketball may get hammered by the NCAA, but it won’t get death penalty

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Brian Bowen Sr. made things look very bad for Louisville in a courthouse on Tuesday.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - New Mexico v Louisville Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The key point for the FBI in its college basketball corruption trial is proving that universities were “defrauded” when cash payments were made to secure the commitments or future services of top recruits. To the FBI, the colleges involved in the scandal were the victim of a few rouge individuals breaking laws while they were trying to work within the NCAA’s strident amateurism rules.

That point in the prosecution’s case appeared to take a major hit on Tuesday when Brian Bowen Sr. again took the stand. Bowen had previously listed all the ways a top college basketball recruit can cash in on his talent. On Tuesday, he went into even more detail.

Bowen talked about the night he met Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson outside gas station and was handed $1,300 in cash for rent. A program’s top assistant coach handing money to the father of a prized recruit would appear to put a nail in the prosecution’s attempt to prove that colleges were “defrauded.” It looks even worse for Louisville.

Louisville was already on probation when Johnson gave money to Bowen Sr.

The meeting took place on Aug. 23, 2017. That would be only nine weeks after Louisville was placed on NCAA probation for the Katrina Powell escort scandal.

The NCAA already made Louisville take down its 2013 championship banner as a result of that scandal, in addition to vacating 123 wins and a 2012 Final Four appearance. Now we have the father of a top recruit testifying under oath that he received a cash payment from a Louisville assistant shortly after the Cardinals’ NCAA probation began.

What will the NCAA do to Louisville with this most recent news? It’s too early to say, but “death penalty” is already being thrown around.

“If the committee on infractions doesn’t have the courage to implement the death penalty on (Louisville), then the NCAA should just give up and take it off the books,” wrote Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! on Tuesday.

The death penalty is often threatened, but (almost) never used

The death penalty has always been more of an idea than a reality to college sports fans. The NCAA has only used it once, when SMU football was banned from playing in the 1987 season. Still, we hear about the threat of the death penalty all the time.

It came up in the Nevin Shaprio scandal at Miami. The Maryland president actually suggested North Carolina should get it for academic fraud. Baylor basketball narrowly escaped for the death and coverup of Patrick Dennehy, playing only conference games for a year. It’s been suggested for Baylor football and Penn State football and Michigan State everything, where actual human atrocities happened. But the NCAA has still not hit a program with the death penalty in the 31 years since SMU.

That’s the good news for Louisville basketball, which is the latest program to find its name next to “death penalty” in a headline. The NCAA is unlikely to push its punishments that far. Still, this isn’t looking good for Louisville.

Louisville is probably going to face severe sanctions

Yes, Louisville fired head coach Rick Pitino, assistant coach Kenny Johnson, and athletic director Tom Jurich following the FBI allegations. Yes, it has previously banned itself from the NCAA tournament in 2016 for fear of greater NCAA repercussion from the Powell scandal.

The NCAA is still likely to hammer the Cardinals again if it can prove that what Bowen said under oath is true.

There is one saving grace for Louisville: under the NCAA’s new rules, Johnson will have to talk to the NCAA as an NCAA employee. If he refutes Bowen’s story, and there’s corroborating proof, the NCAA would only have the testimony of Bowen to go off of.

The NCAA is incredibly unpredictable in the way it doles out punishment. It also has a tendency to take a looong time before making up its mind. But if a Louisville assistant really did give the father of a top recruit money for rent, that looks bad for the Cards. Louisville likely won’t get the death penalty (nor should it), but another NCAA tournament ban isn’t out of the question.