Big news broke Thursday night when Louisville super-recruit Brian Bowen was officially cleared by the FBI in the NCAA basketball pay-to-play scandal. That was great news for Bowen, his agent and his family.
Whether it was a positive development for Louisville is largely dependent on what the Cardinals do next, and the easy and obvious move is not necessarily to reinstate the five-star wing man, even though he remains enrolled at the school.
First things first: For now Bowen is suspended from basketball activities, though it remains unclear whether he is suspended out of an abundance of caution or whether he has already declared ineligible. Obviously, the latter would make any of these considerations a moot point.
Add to that the indefinite suspensions of Auburn basketball players of Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, believed to be two of the other players who received compensation for their college choice as described in FBI dossiers, and there is a real movement to keep players who allegedly received cash for commitments out of action for the perceived sake of their respective schools.
However, if Louisville does have a decision to make, it should and almost certainly will take the deliberations very seriously. The key to the FBI’s clearing of Bowen is this: Federal investigators have determined that Bowen didn’t do anything personally illegal, whether he accepted $100,000 to play at Louisville or not. Critically, that doesn’t mean he didn’t do anything that violates NCAA codes.
In that sense, Louisville has to be extremely careful with its next move, because the NCAA and FBI are essentially putting the onus of investigation back on the Louisville program. If Louisville conducts its own investigation and determines Bowen is clear of any wrongdoing but the NCAA investigates and finds differently, the Cardinals would almost certainly be in an even bigger world of pain than they already are.
Because of those considerations, and the fact that Louisville is likely to face significant penalties that could keep the program from the NCAA Tournament for a second time in three years, there’s little real incentive to play Bowen and risk more downfall. After all, playing Bowen would openly flaunt a player who is essentially a walking NCAA investigation in front of the very people with the authority to bring additional punishment on the school.
On the other hand, perhaps that’s precisely what Louisville most wants to do now after back-to-back scandals it feels its being unfairly persecuted for.
The only thing that’s certain is that Bowen himself clearly wants to play, and play now.