By Dalton Ray–

Once again, the U of L men’s basketball program is being dragged through the mud.

When news broke at 9:30 a.m on Sept. 26, that four college coaches were arrested by the FBI for fraud and corruption, Louisville fans everywhere took a deep breath. Rifling through the article, seeing no Louisville coaches were mentioned, a sense of relief  washed over fans.

Within the next hour, that relief transformed into disbelief — again. This time it was worse, though.

Two U of L coaches allegedly participated in illegally recruiting players by offering money. The act is bad enough alone. But it was allegedly done while the program was on probation and in the middle of an appeal with the NCAA to save the 2013 national title. This takes it to another level.

According to the indictment by the FBI, one U of L assistant coach said they had to keep this “low key” because of the school’s probation.

This is truly unbelievable.

Growing up, I was a U of L fanboy. My team could do no wrong. They didn’t cheat. They played by the rules.

As I began my college journalism career, my objectivity developed. Still, my fanboy-ness shined through in certain topics.

When I was the assistant sports editor, news of the stripper scandal hit.

I couldn’t believe it. Katina Powell was just out for money and this would blow over. Coach Rick Pitino couldn’t let this happen.

Then I sat in the press conference when Pitino, director Tom Jurich, former U of L President James Ramsey and investigator Chuck Smrt announced the postseason ban, admitting what happened was true.

At that point, I distanced myself from the university and the athletic department I love.

Since that day, I never claimed the University of Louisville as “we” or “us” when referencing the team. That punch hurt, bad.

That press conference showed me that one’s true passion, U of L athletics in my case, could simply be a game to some — a dark day in my fandom.

Even then, I had faith in Pitino as a fan of the program.

Pitino couldn’t have known. He wouldn’t have let that happen.

Watching Pitino in person fight with passion in several press conferences was enough for me to believe. The fire in his eyes that lit anytime someone mentioned the scandal sold me. Sure, call me a homer.

I never denied the accusations once the proper evidence was brought to the table, but I still had faith in Pitino.

The U of L fan base took this scandal on the chin. Their team missed the postseason but fans still supported that team will full force.

When the 2016-17 team hit the court, there was an added energy in the home atmosphere. The scandal was in the rear-view mirror. New, better days were ahead.

Earlier this year when the news broke that U of L would likely lose its national championship, it was a shot to the heart.

The nightmare of the Powell scandal came to fruition. Some hoped the appeal would save the title, but some accepted their fate.

Even with the threat of title vacation, fans just wanted the story in the past. Get it over already.

Through all of this, Pitino stuck with his story: I didn’t know what was going on and if I did, I would have stopped it.

Pitino brought together the troops and said come rally around this 2017-18 team. It’s one of the best we’ve had. Despite the threat of dropping the banner, the fan base backed their team and most backed Pitino.

By noon Sept. 26, the flame of faith backing Pitino had been blown out.

The fans have had enough. How many times can a base be a laughing stock before saying ‘enough is enough?’

Apparently, three, if you win a national title.

As much as it pains me to say it, Pitino has to go. There becomes a limit and the latest scandal is a slap in the face to the fan base.

For Pitino to have someone on his staff pull this off, while on probation, tells the NCAA Pitino is all bark and no bite.

It’s simply inexcusable.

The worst part about it are the two U of L assistant coaches involved. If everything alleged is proven true, and the FBI has hard evidence, the two should never be able to coach in any level.

To knowingly go out and illegally recruit players — after seeing everything this program and city have been through — shows they are selfish individuals that only care about themselves. It’s a disgrace to have those individuals wear the red and black.

What pains me even more to say is the program needs the death penalty. Clean house. Start over.

It’s a drastic move, but the men’s basketball program is simply out of control. There is no longer the option of cutting out the cancer, what was thought to be done when Andre McGee left.

The program needs a culture change. Blow it up and start from scratch.

Who knows what will happen to the athletic department as a whole if the death penalty is the answer, but it’s becoming the final resort.

The financial hit of a death penalty is one thing, but the hit to the fans is another. They need a fresh slate.

Louisville fans deserve better.

You can follow Dalton Ray on Twitter @dray5477.

File photo / The Louisville Cardinal