LOUISVILLE, Ky. — From the boardroom to the basketball court, the University of Louisville had a tough year. Hall of Fame Coach Rick Pitino was fired, the school dealt with a yearlong probation from an accrediting group and an audit found mismanagement at a foundation overseeing its investments.
The turbulent stretch in what became a transition year at UofL has been voted Kentucky’s top news story of 2017 in the annual Associated Press poll of editors, news directors and reporters.
A close second in balloting was the resignation of Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover after acknowledging he secretly settled a sexual harassment claim. Hoover, who kept his legislative seat, denied sexual harassment, but said he sent consensual but inappropriate text messages to a woman who worked for the House Republican Caucus.
Another Republican lawmaker embroiled in sexual misconduct allegations, Dan Johnson, killed himself a day after denying a woman’s accusations that he sexually assaulted her a few years earlier. Johnson’s death in December occurred after the top stories survey was underway.
Kentucky’s chronically underfunded pension system, along with efforts by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and legislators to overhaul the system, was chosen as the state’s No. 3 story.
At No. 4 was a neighborhood attack involving U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who was tackled from behind in early November while mowing the lawn at his Bowling Green home. One of Paul’s neighbors, Rene Boucher, was charged with misdemeanor assault.
The story at No. 5 reflected the new dynamics at the state Capitol, where Republican lawmakers wielded complete control of the Legislature and governor’s office for the first time ever. They followed through on a number of long-sought goals, including new laws to limit abortions and ban mandatory union fees in workplaces — though both efforts drew legal challenges. Lawmakers also passed a bill allowing public charter schools.
Other top stories included the state’s budget problems, the capture of a Kentucky attorney embroiled in a massive Social Security fraud case, discussions about what to do with Confederate memorials and the state’s ongoing response to opioid overdoses.
At UofL, top administrators said some of the high-profile problems that dogged the university during most of 2017 had been resolved by late in the year.
“The university is positioned well for the future, and we look forward to much progress in 2018,” said UofL’s interim president, Greg Postel.
An accrediting agency lifted UofL’s probation after the university resolved issues related to its governance, administration and finances. Postel called it a “tremendous relief” that meant UofL students and alumni “no longer have to worry about the value of their diplomas.”
UofL trustees resolved differences with the university’s foundation, which oversees UofL’s investments but was plagued by mismanagement and excessive spending. Changes at the foundation increased transparency and oversight of expenditures, investments and compensation.
But other problems will persist into 2018.
Fallout continued from scandals involving the school’s high-profile men’s basketball program. Pitino’s firing came after UofL acknowledged it was being investigated in a federal bribery probe of college basketball. The federal complaint stated that an Adidas executive and others attempted to funnel $100,000 to a recruit’s family to gain his commitment to play for Louisville. Pitino is not named in the federal complaint and denied participation in and knowledge of alleged payments to the recruit’s family. Pitino sued the University of Louisville Athletic Association for $38.7 million, saying it breached his contract and fired him with no legally justified “cause.”
The school’s longtime athletic director, Tom Jurich, also was fired after the probe surfaced.
Postel said the changes in the athletic department were “difficult but necessary,” and expressed confidence that under the leadership of interim athletic director Vince Tyra, the Cardinals’ programs will “make us proud both on and off the playing field.”
The school also appealed a decision by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions imposing penalties for a sex scandal involving the basketball program. The NCAA placed Louisville on four years’ probation and ordered that it vacate up to 123 victories, including the 2013 national title and 2012 Final Four appearance.