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.

New York senator the latest to propose bill to abolish amateurism

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A second state now has legislation in the works that would make it legal for college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness.

Kevin Parker, a New York state senator from Brooklyn, has proposed a bill similar to California’s Fair Pay To Play act, not only giving college athletes the ability to sell their NIL rights but also requiring athletic departments to give a 15 percent share of their annual revenue to the student-athletes. California’s bill, which will go into effect in 2023 if it is signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, would make removing a student-athlete from their scholarship for accepting endorsement money illegal.

“It’s about equity,” Parker told ESPN. “These young people are adding their skill, talent and labor to these universities.

“You don’t need the shortcuts and the end-arounds because now we’re providing some real support for these student-athletes.”

New York joins the growing list of organizations that are pushing back against the NCAA’s rules on amateurism. South Carolina, Maryland, Colorado and Washington have had legislators discuss whether or not to make similar changes to the law, while Congressmen from North Carolina and Connecticut have made pushes at the federal level. Democratic Presidential candidate Anrew Yang has blasted the NCAA over their amateurism rules, while just last week, NBA agents made public the fact that they will be refusing to register for the NCAA’s proposed certification process.

Rick Pitino, Louisville settle lawsuit

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals looks on in the first half against the Michigan Wolverines during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 19, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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The University of Louisville and former head coach Rick Pitino have reached a joint agreement to drop their lawsuits against each other.

The two sides “have mutually agreed to dismiss their legal claims against each other, designate his departure as a resignation and move forward,” according to a joint statement that was released by the University and Pitino. Pitino will not be paid any money as a result of this settlement, but he departure will now be classified as a resignation, effective Oct. 3rd, 2017.

Pitino had sued Louisville for somewhere around $40 million.

“For 17 years, Coach Pitino ran a program that combined excellence on the court with a commitment to the program’s student-athletes, their academic achievement, and their futures in and out of basketball,” the state said. “Nevertheless, there were NCAA infractions during his term which led to serious consequences for the university. Although these infractions may not have occurred at Pitino’s direction or with his knowledge, the problems leading to NCAA infractions happened under his leadership. We thank Coach Pitino for his years of service to the University of Louisville basketball program and wish him well.”

“Today I move on to a new chapter in my life,” a statement from Pitino reads. “Against my lawyer’s advice, I’m dropping my lawsuit with ULAA. I am very proud of the many accomplishments my teams achieved at Louisville. I’m so thankful and honored to coach such dedicated athletes. I’m also disappointed in how it ended. But as head coach I am held responsible for the actions of all team members. I still have so much passion for the game and so many goals I want to achieve. From this day forward I start my climb.”

Kentucky lands commitments from two more elite prospects

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John Calipari is getting his work done early in the 2020 recruiting class, as he added two more commitments over the weekend.

On Thursday, it was Lance Ware, a 6-foot-10 post player from Camden, New Jersey, that announced his commitment. Ware is a top 50 recruit that held offers from the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Miami. The bigger news, however, came on Saturday afternoon, when Terrance Clarke announced that he will be enrolling at Kentucky whenever he ends his high school tenure. Clarke is currently a member of the Class of 2021, but the plan is for him to reclassify and graduate high school this year.

Clarke is a consensus top three player in 2021 – and he may be the No. 1 player in that class, depending on who you ask – and should immediately vault into the top five of the 2020 recruiting class. An athletic, versatile wing that stands 6-foot-6, Clarke is a potential lottery pick given his physical tools and the way that he projects as multi-positional defender with the ability to create off of the dribble. Ware, like Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery before him, projects as the kind of player that will spend 2-3 years in Lexington.

Clarke and Ware join top ten prospect B.J. Boston and another top 50 recruit, Cam’Ron Fletcher, in Kentucky’s 2020 class. That’s three wings in the class with Johnny Juzang, Kahlil Whitney, Dontaie Allen and Keion Brooks currently on campus. Throw Montgomery into the mix, and that’s eight players that fit somewhere into a lineup as a wing or a face-up big man, and it seems rather unlikely that all five of the guys currently at Kentucky will leave the school this offseason. Put another way, this looks like the end of Kentucky’s pursuit of the likes of Jalen Green and Josh Christopher.

Calipari is still recruiting Cade Cunningham despite the fact that many expect Cunningham to end up at Oklahoma State, where Mike Boynton hired his brother Cannen, but Cade has skyrocketed up the recruiting rankings as he has transitioned to playing the point. Kentucky is still in the mix for a handful of other forwards, including Scottie Barnes, Isaiah Todd and Greg Brown.

Tony Bennett turns down raise, signs contract extension

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Virginia announced that they have signed head coach Tony Bennett to a contract extension, keeping him under contract through the 2025-26 season.

This is not unexpected. He just won the national title. I think he earned a new deal.

What is unique here, however, is that Bennett turned down a raise. He asked for more money for his assistants and for some cash to be put towards improvements in both his program and the other Virginia sports teams, but he passed on getting more money put into his own bank account.

“[My wife] Laurel and I are in a great spot, and in the past I’ve had increases in my contract,” Bennett said in the news release. “We just feel a great peace about where we’re at, all that’s taken place, and how we feel about this athletic department and this community and this school. I love being at UVA.

“… I have more than enough, and if there are ways that this can help out the athletic department, the other programs and coaches, by not tying up so much [in men’s basketball], that’s my desire.”

That’s the dream scenario right there, being rich enough to turn down more money.

NCAA urges California governor not to sign ‘fair pay’ bill

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The NCAA Board of Governors wants California Gov. Gavin Newsom to reject a new attempt to pay college athletes.

And it is prepared to take the fight to court if necessary.

In a six-paragraph letter released Wednesday, the board urged Newsom not to sign the legislation known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, which would allow college athletes to be paid for the use of their names, likenesses and images. The move comes two days after approval of the measure by the California Assembly, with the state Senate expected to consider the measure later this week.

The board warned that California schools may be declared ineligible for NCAA competition if the bill becomes law because they would have an unfair recruiting advantage.

“We’ve explored how it might impact the association and what it might do. We believe it would inappropriately affect interstate commerce,” Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief operating officer and chief legal officer, told The Associated Press. “It is not intended to be a threat at all. It’s a reflection about the way California is going about this.

“I’m not saying there will never be a day we would consider that (legal action), but it is not meant to be a threat,” Remy said.

The NCAA said the measure would affect more than 24,000 athletes in the nation’s most populous state.

Should the bill pass, Newsom would have 30 days to sign or veto it. If he does nothing, the bill would become law. It would be the first measure of its kind and the outcome is being closely watched as one of the biggest challenges in years to the NCAA’s longstanding and far-reaching model of amateur sports. Over the past decade, that model has come under increasing pressure – and attacks in court – as critics push for big-time college athletics to clear the way for the athletes themselves to benefit financially.

NCAA rules prohibit athletes from profiting off their athletic skills. The organization, however, has recently begun considering rules changes to loosen those restrictions, though NCAA President Mark Emmert – and the board again on Wednesday – insist that players cannot be paid or become the equivalent of a university employee. Formal recommendations are expected to be made at the board’s October meeting.

It appears there is an appetite for significant changes.

Board members met with the working group studying these issues in August but neither Remy nor board member Denis McDonough would discuss specific proposals.

“The rules that we operate under, many of which date to 1975, may not be suitable for us in 2021 with the challenges and opportunities student-athletes face,” said McDonough, the White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama. “So we are and have been taking a very close look at how we can modernize those rules. We’re hoping the state of California would recognize that modernizing those rules for student-athletes across the country is the best way to do that.”

Supporters think those changes are already overdue and believe California’s elected officials should act now.

“The NCAA’s assertions are purposefully misleading,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association. “The 9th Circuit upheld a ruling concluding that the NCAA’s ban on player name, image, and likeness compensation does not bring forth a level playing field. The Big 12 commissioner stated competitive equity is `largely an illusion.’

“NCAA amateurism is a fraud. It’s a $14 billion a year industry with millionaire coaches. An NCAA ban on California colleges would amount to an illegal group boycott that would violate federal and California antitrust laws.”

The NCAA believes the California measure would violate the federal Commerce Clause and may not withstand a legal challenge; Remy cited a previous case in California in which the state tried to inhibit the NCAA from enforcing its rules. The NCAA won that case.

Should the measure pass, Remy said, the NCAA would penalize the schools, not individual athletes.

“There are two parts to this and part of this is the membership and that includes the California schools,” Remy said. “Schools and universities agree to comply with the rules of (NCAA) membership and there are a set of eligibility criteria that go along with being member institution. The California schools have consented to that criterion. So in that context it would be the schools that would directly impacted.”