Column: Rick Pitino’s plausible deniability could not save him, and that is how the NCAA wants it

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Typically, when an NCAA investigation is looming and a head coach is pleading ignorance, claiming that it says nothing about the culture of his program and everything about a rogue staff member, that coach is, frankly, full of s***.

The term is plausible deniability.

Stay two steps away from the wrongdoing and they’ll never be able to connect you to it.

That is precisely what Rick Pitino has been saying and said again today, after the NCAA suspended him for the first five games of the ACC season and determined that they will be vacating 108 Louisville wins, including the 2013 national title. He had no idea that Andre McGee was bringing strippers and hookers in Billy Minardi Hall, and he had no idea that McGee was paying — more than $5,000 over the course of four years, according to the NCAA — for those strippers and hookers to provide “adult entertainment and/or sex acts” for three different players on the team and as many as 15 recruits, four of whom were 16 years old at the time.

And I believe him.

I believe every word he’s saying for no other reason than the fact that Pitino is not stupid and it would require him to be incredibly stupid to know that McGee was paying for strippers to dance for and hookers to have sex with members of his team, let alone with minors he was trying to entice to Louisville, and not put a stop to it.

Pitino is no angel. I’m not saying he is. But do you honestly believe that he would risk a job that pays him millions of dollars over this?

There’s no way.

What Pitino is guilty of is trusting the wrong man.

Because that is, essentially, what this comes down to.

Coaches intentionally keep themselves out of the loop when it comes to what happens with recruits on official visits, but typically that’s because the players on the team bring that kid along with them wherever they go that weekend. They’ll go to a few parties, have a few drinks, flirt with a few girls, maybe hit up a football tailgate. Think of what you do or did during a normal weekend in college, and that’s what these recruits do.

And those coaches don’t want to know about it just like Pitino didn’t want to know about it. They trust that the players on their team and the members of their staff coordinating the visits are smart enough to make sure the recruits don’t leave with anything other than a hangover.

Unfortunately for Pitino, this was not the case, but that does not matter.

“By his own admission, the head coach and his assistants did not interact with prospects from 10 p.m. until the next morning,” the NCAA said. “The panel noted that the head coach essentially placed a peer of the student-athletes in a position of authority over them and visiting prospects, and assumed that all would behave appropriately in an environment that was, for all practical purposes, a basketball dorm.”

“This arrangement played a role in creating a location where the former operations director’s activities went undetected.”

And as a result, Pitino pays the price for what happened in his program. That’s the way it worked for Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and SMU head coach Larry Brown, who were both suspended for nine games for violations that occurred under their watch. Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze is probably going to end up feeling the NCAA’s wrath in the same way. Hell, Pitino got off light; he was only suspended for five games, and the NCAA accepted the program’s 2015-16 postseason ban. They’ll be able to play in the NCAA tournament this season.

So why is Pitino so mad?

Say goodbye to this (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Because barring a successful appeal that does not appear to be all that likely, Louisville will be losing their 2012 trip to the Final Four and their 2013 national title, the first time in NCAA history that a national title will be vacated. He’ll no longer be able to claim that he’s one of 14 head coaches to win more than one national title. He’ll no longer see a 2013 National Champions banner hanging above the court in the Yum! Center. It won’t be on any Louisville programs. It will be scrubbed from Louisville’s website. They will no longer be able to make ‘2013 National Champions’ be one of the first things you see when you arrive at the Yum! Center.

Generally speaking, I think that vacating wins is the dumbest thing in the world. What this punishment is essentially saying is that Louisville didn’t actually win the games they won from Dec. 2010 through July 2014. That 2013 run to the national title is one I’ll never forget, from Kevin Ware’s broken leg in the Elite 8 to the show that freshman Spike Albrecht put on in the first half of the national title game.

That happened.

But in this specific instance, I think that vacating wins — specifically, vacating the national title — is the worst punishment that the NCAA can hand down.

Think about the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry for a second. Big picture. In 2009, when John Calipari — Pitino’s archnemesis — took over at Kentucky — Pitino’s old stomping grounds and his biggest rival at the new gig — the running joke was that it would only be a matter of time because Coach Cal got Kentucky in trouble, right? It was only a matter of time before he had Kentucky vacating Final Fours the way that he left Memphis and UMass with vacated Final Fours, yes?

Fast forward eight years, and it’s Pitino and Louisville, not Calipari and Kentucky, that will be taking down Final Four banners and vacating a national title.

That indignity is worse than any punishment the NCAA could have given out to the program itself, and given the magnitude of the violations in the NCAA’s eyes, that’s just the way that they wanted it to be.

So even if Pitino didn’t know about what McGee was doing, it doesn’t matter.

In the NCAA’s eyes, the buck stops with him.

Pitino’s program was using prostitutes to recruit high school kids, and now he’ll have to pay the price.

Syracuse walk-on accused of sexual assault

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Dominick Parker, an 18-year old freshman who was added to the Syracuse roster as a walk-on just 12 days ago, was arrested last Friday and charged with sexual abuse in the first degree, reports Syracuse.com.

Parker is accused of having sexual contact with an 18-year old female student while she was incapable of giving consent. His name and picture have been removed from the Syracuse athletics website.

“Sexual and relationship violence is not tolerated at Syracuse University,” the school said in a statement. “We are now doing all that we can to support and provide assistance to those affected by the alleged incident. As this is an ongoing investigation, Syracuse University will not be providing further comment.”

Wichita State to sell beer at Koch Arena

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As if it wasn’t already hard enough to win games at Koch Arena.

Starting this season, Wichita State fans will be able to buy beer during games at their home arena, a fact that should ensure that the raucous home environs that have made the Shockers so difficult to beat in Wichita remains the same.

That’s not a bad thing to add to a home court advantage while making the move into a new conference, the American, for the 2017-18 season.

Once a rarity, beer at college sporting events in a growing trend. Minnesota, Florida and Texas, among a number of others have added alcohol sales in recent years. Given the money that would seem likely to be generated, it’s a trend that will probably become even more pervasive in college athletics.

Let’s just make sure that everyone partakes in moderation.

Blue Ribbon release college basketball preseason top 25, all-american teams

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Blue Ribbon, the college basketball bible, has released their top 25 and preseason all-american awards, the first publication to do so as far as I know.

Their top five — Arizona, Michigan State, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky — contains the same teams as my top five will, only in a different order. The only crazy ranking that I see in their top 25 comes with Miami checking in at No. 16. I have a feeling they are going to end up regretting that by the end of the season.

What is somewhat crazy, however, is Blue Ribbon’s all-american teams.

Bonzie Colson is their Preseason National Player of the Year. That’s not my pick, but it’s justifiable. But having Miles Bridges as a second-team preseason all-american? Angel Delgado as a fourth-team preseason all-american? I disagree with both of those picks.

But that will all play out during the season.

And, frankly, I haven’t exactly had the best track record predicting all-americans in recent years, not after I opted to rate Skal Labissiere as a first-team preseason all-american over Buddy Hield.

That was a miss.

It happens to the best of us.

But I feel pretty comfortable saying that Miles Bridges as a second-team preseason all-american will end up being a miss.

4-star center commits to Purdue

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With Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas entering their senior seasons, adding front court options in the 2018 class was something that Purdue needed to do. Purdue added its second front court commitment in the 2018 class Tuesday evening, as four-star center Emmanuel Dowuona reportedly made his pledge. News of Dowuona’s commitment was first reported by the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

Dowuona, a 6-foot-11 big man who attends Westwood Christian School in Miami, joins fellow four-star prospect Trevion Williams in Purdue’s 2018 class to date.

Dowuona’s commitment comes just days before he was reportedly to visit Tennessee. Among the other programs to have offered Duwuona were Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and UConn.

Dowuona played for the Team Breakdown program on the Under Armour Association circuit during the summer, averaging 7.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. While still a bit raw offensively, the native of Ghana provides value as a defender and rebounder. Dowuona is joining a program that during Painter’s tenure as head coach has done a good job of developing big men.

Dowuona and the aforementioned Williams will look to compete for playing time in 2018-19 alongside current redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor and 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Matt Haarms.

Dayton freshman Toppin ineligible for 2017-18 season

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Dayton announced Tuesday afternoon that one of the program’s incoming freshmen will not be eligible to compete this season. 6-foot-8 forward Obadiah Toppin has been ruled by the NCAA to have not met initial eligibility requirements, and he will have to sit out the 2017-18 season as a result.

Toppin will be allowed to remain a member of the team and participate in practices, and he will have four seasons of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2018-19 season. While the NCAA’s decision leaves the Flyers short a front court option in head coach Anthony Grant’s first season at the helm, it did not come as a surprise.

“We knew this was a possible scenario for Obi early on in the recruiting process,” Grant said in the release. “And if it came to pass, we saw this as a chance for him to utilize this year acclimate as a student and enhance his strength and skill as an academic redshirt. This is a great opportunity for Obi to develop as a player and student over the next 12 months, and prepare himself for a very successful college career.”

Toppin, who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game at Mt. Zion Academy last season, is one of five freshmen who have joined the program. Matej Svoboda and Jordan Pierce will look to earn minutes alongside returnees Josh Cunningham and Xeyrius Williams, and the same can be said for redshirt freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Toppin being declared ineligible is the third hit Dayton has taken to its front court this offseason. Ryan Mikesell, who played in 32 games last season, will redshirt after undergoing two hip surgeries. And Sam Miller, who was also part of the team’s front court rotation last season, was suspended from school for the fall semester after he was arrested during the summer.