Photo: Andy Lyons (Getty Images)

Louisville’s statement following the NCAA’s decision, in February, to go forward with vacating the Cardinals’ 2013 national title over the Andre McGee escort scandal said the university would “close this chapter and move forward with a stronger commitment to excellence on and off the court.” It behooved the university to drop it and move on, with a much scarier FBI investigation of college basketball recruiting underway, and so that’s what they did.

But Louisville accepting their new designation as the first school to ever vacate a national championship does not mean the players from the title-winning team have to accept the decision. Per an Associated Press report, five players from the 2013 title team, including captain Luke Hancock, have filed a lawsuit against the NCAA over its punishment of the program. The plaintiffs reportedly include Hancock, Tim Henderson, Stephan Van Treese, Mike Marra, and Minnesota Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng.

The bringing of the lawsuit occasioned a press conference, and the press conference provided an opportunity for John Morgan, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, to tee off on the NCAA:

“In the sports world, I don’t think there is any Goliath that exists like the NCAA. The NCAA is a giant, but the NCAA is a morally bankrupt organization that has taken advantage of economically disadvantaged young people throughout our country.

“They answer to nobody but are bad for everybody.”

The lawsuit reportedly “seeks declaration that [the NCAA] wrongfully vacated the plaintiffs’ wins, honors and awards,” without specifying any monetary damages. Hancock, in particular, wants his damn name cleared:

“It’s been five years and I can’t tell you two days where I’ve gone without having someone come to me and ask me if I had strippers or prostitutes in the dorm,” he said.

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While Hancock says he wasn’t involved in the escort scandal, it’s important to note that the problem here certainly isn’t that some teenage boys had sex, and it isn’t even that a Louisville basketball staffer made it happen. It’s that the NCAA enforces rules that prevent big money sports operations from functioning like normal businesses, recruiting candidates with competitive salaries and perks and benefits, like any other industry. The effect is that schools and boosters and agents and sponsors and high school programs and AAU grifters form this whole bizarre and illicit underground recruiting economy, centered around exploiting the valuable and marketable talents of young athletes.

It’s weird and creepy for a grown man to hire escorts to have sex with teenage boys in order to convince them to play basketball for his program, but that kind of thing would go away instantly if Louisville had to compete like any other employer for the services of the most qualified candidates, where actual compensation is always the juiciest carrot. Hancock and his teammates are being punished not just for the bad acts of an adult entrenched inside the power structure, but also for an ugly reality of recruiting that flows directly and inevitably from the NCAA’s own cynical and ridiculous enforcement of “amateurism.” Pay the players what they’re worth. Then they can pay for their own damn escorts.