Rick Pitino ‘effectively fired’ as Louisville head coach

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Rick Pitino is done.

On Tuesday evening, roughly ten hours after his program was referenced in an FBI complaint that resulted in the arrest of four assistant coaches, two Adidas executives, an employee for an agent, an AAU coach and a financial advisor, Pitino released a statement saying that “these allegations came as a complete shock to me” and “I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.”

Those were the last words that he would utter as an employed basketball coach.

Pitino was placed on administrative leave and “effectively fired” on Wednesday morning, his lawyer told the Louisville Courier-Journal, the fallout from a pair of scandals too much for one of the most powerful men in the sport to endure. His boss, athletic director Tom Jurich, was expected to receive the same fate, according to multiple reports.

A press conference with interim Louisville President Greg Postel will be held at 1 p.m. Pitino and Jurich will not be there. An official announcement is expected at that time.

A Hall of Famer that has been in charge of the Louisville program for 16 seasons, Pitino’s demise came as a direct result of a bombshell investigation report released by the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. Four assistant coaches and six influencers in the college basketball world were arrested, and while none of them were members of the Louisville staff, the program still managed to find a way into the mess.

Jim Gatto, a powerful Adidas executive, was one of the men that was arrested, in part because of a scheme that was devised to funnel $100,000 from Adidas to the family of a player that can easily be identified as Brian Bowen. That payment was made “at the request of at least one coach from [Louisville],” and another Louisville assistant was recorded as part of a conversation in which a Class of 2019 prospect was paid to commit to the Cardinals. During that conversation, per the release from the FBI, it was made clear: Louisville “was already on probation with the NCAA” and that “they would have to be particularly careful with how they passed money” to the player.

Why was Louisville on probation with the NCAA?

Because from 2010-14, a member of Pitino’s coaching staff, Andre McGee, was caught paying for strippers and sex workers for underage recruits and members of the Louisville team. The NCAA investigation into those allegations resulted in not only probation for the Louisville program, but, pending appeal, the vacation of Louisville’s 2012 trip to the Final Four and their 2013 National Title.

That came on the heels of an incident in 2010 where Karen Sypher, a woman who received a seven-year prison sentence for trying to extort Pitino over an affair the two had.

But this scandal is different.

With Sypher, Pitino strayed outside of his marriage. I’m not condoning that, but his personal life is his personal life, and in the end he was the victim of an extortion scheme, even if, as the ‘victim’, he was thoroughly humiliated in the eye of the public.

Pitino has told anyone and everyone that he was completely in the dark regarding sex-for-pay scandal that the NCAA ruled on earlier this year. I believe him. Even after the results of the FBI’s investigation were made public, I believe him. His deniability in that case is entirely plausible, and while it shouldn’t shield him from NCAA punishment – the rules are the rules – in my mind, he got a pass for that. He’s too smart to do what McGee did.

That’s not excusing Pitino.

But the salacious details of his personal life and the outright, blatant, institutional level of cheating that came to the forefront on Tuesday are two different things.

Here’s the truth: The reason that the NCAA changed their policy on head coach plausible deniability is precisely because of what Louisville did in that Las Vegas hotel room. Members of Pitino’s coaching staff facilitated a six-figure payment to at least one recruit through a shoe company. Pitino was not attached to it; the boss doesn’t get involved with the street-level dealings. No head coaches do, even if they implicitly or tacitly endorse it.

This is the dirty part of college basketball the NCAA has been trying to rid the game of.

Louisville is guilty. Pitino’s staff is guilty. That means Pitino is guilty.

It’s that simple.

He had to go.

And that’s sad to me.

Here’s why:

Pitino is one of the best to ever do it in the college basketball ranks. Hell, he may be the best coach of this generation. I don’t think that’s overstating it.

He’s won two national titles, one with Kentucky and one with Louisville. He’s won 770 games. He’s been to seven Final Fours. He may be the most important and divisive figure in the state that loves college basketball more than any other. He made Kentucky great again after a scandal in the late-80s involving then-Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton that left the program with two years worth of postseason bans. He made Louisville great again after the forgettable end of Denny Crum’s tenure, a four-year stretch where the Cardinals failed to win 20 games in a season.

And his career will be remembered as nothing more than an incident on a restaurant table, hookers in a dorm and the money paid to a player in a Vegas hotel room.

He’s not retiring. He’s being to be forced out of the game that he meant so much to, a pariah at both of the programs that he made relevant, that he took from the doldrums and led to a national title.

And that’s a shame.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.