Fresh off an NCAA national title win on Monday, Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino will be in the stands tonight when the college's women's team tries to accomplish the same feat.
His team, however, won't be with him.
That's because the NCAA denied the school's request that the men's team be allowed to fly to New Orleans to cheer on their classmates, saying that would constitute an "improper benefit." NCAA rules forbid players from receiving financial incentives, so neither the school nor Pitino were allowed to foot the bill.
"They all wanted to go to the women's game," Pitino said, according to The Associated Press. "We asked the NCAA and they said it's illegal. We were going to take the plane and go see them, which is a shame. I guess it's an extra benefit."
The NCAA reversed course Tuesday morning, saying it had ultimately granted a waiver that would allow the men to travel to New Orleans. But the waiver came too late, since the college had already made plans for the men's team to return to campus early this afternoon.
The women's team could make history tonight with a win over perennial powerhouse UConn. Only once in NCAA history has a school won both the men's and women's hoops titles in the same season.
That team? The 2004 UConn Huskies.
That the NCAA prevented the men's team from being on hand to watch a potentially historic game drew intense criticism.
"It's silly that the NCAA couldn't have been flexible in the moment on Monday night and approved the request as Louisville celebrated its big win over Michigan at the Georgia Dome," says Yahoo Sports' Kevin Kaduk. "After all, these guys have flown around the country playing for free all season long, the least the ruling body could have done is let them enjoy their wild ride for 24 more hours while also supporting the journey of the women's team."
Others say the NCAA not only did a disservice to Louisville, but to its own reputation as well. The NCAA has been battered by scandals — including one of its own making involving the University of Miami Hurricanes — and it made itself look worse by "robbing the world of a display of camaraderie" on the national stage, says Rant Sports' Jack Jorgensen.
"We live in a world where, seemingly every week nowadays, we're treated to an example of everything that is wrong with college athletics," Jorgensen writes. "This ruling is a missed opportunity to change the bad perception, even if only for one night."