As part of the sanctions handed down to the University of Louisville men’s basketball program as a result of the escort scandal that came to light a couple years ago, the NCAA Committee on Infractions announced that the results of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 teams would be vacated from the record books.
That ruling means that the Cardinals’ trip to the Final Four in 2012 and national title the following season can no longer be acknowledged by the school. Members of those teams have refused to take the decision lying down, and on Tuesday it was announced via press release that a lawsuit will be filed against the NCAA.
The lawsuit was officially filed Wednesday morning in Commonwealth of Kentucky Jefferson Circuit Court.
“We’re here today to get back what was wrongfully taken,” attorney John Morgan said during a press conference Wednesday morning. “We’re here to reinstate ALL of those wins, not just some of those wins. But more than that — we are here today to get these players’ good names back.”
The act of vacating a team’s records is one that many have questioned over the years with regards to its effectiveness; it isn’t as if a Louisville fan will suddenly forget watching these teams play. But with the vacation of those records comes, for the school, a loss of revenue from those seasons.
And of even greater importance, especially for the athletes who played, no longer being officially acknowledged for what you and your teammates achieved is a big deal. Players such as 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock and guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith certainly won’t forget what they worked together to achieve, and the fans won’t forget cheering them on either.
But to walk into the KFC Yum! Center and not see the banners associated with those teams is a bitter pill to swallow for all involved.
If Louisville vacates the 2013 national title, does Michigan win the national title?
Louisville lost their appeal, meaning that for the first time in college basketball history, a Division I program is going to have to take down a national title banner.
The details are pretty straight-forward: If one of the three enrolled student-athletes or 15 recruits that the were determined by the NCAA to have received “adult entertainment and/or sex acts” from strippers and sex workers played in any game from Dec. 2010 through July 2014, when Louisville staffer Andre McGee was paying for girls to come around Louisville’s Billy Minardi Hall, then that game is to be vacated from the Louisville record books.
That includes 123 regular season games and 15 NCAA tournament wins.
That also includes the 2012 Final Four and the 2013 National Title.
What does that mean? How does a program vacate records and titles?
Well, they can no longer do anything to officially reference winning that title. Banners come down. Record books must be changed. For all intents and purposes, Louisville must never again acknowledge that their run to the national title — which included Kevin Ware breaking his leg in the Elite 8 against Duke, a marvelous comeback in the Final Four against Wichita State and one of the most exciting halves of basketball in NCAA tournament history as Luke Hancock and Spike Albrecht went shot-for-shot — took place.
It doesn’t, however, mean that Michigan, whom Louisville beat in the national title game, won the 2013 National Championship.
This not like the Olympics. A silver medal does not turn to gold when the official winner is ruled a cheat. Michigan still lost that game in the eyes of the NCAA. Louisville did not forfeit the win. They just … also lost.
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?
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.
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.
NCAA suspends Rick Pitino five games, Louisville’s 2013 title in jeopardy
The NCAA announced on Thursday that Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has been suspended for the first five ACC games of the 2017-18 season.
The suspension stems from the NCAA’s finding that Pitino “violated NCAA head coach responsibility rules when he did not monitor the activities of his former operations director.” Pitino is not allowed to be involved with the team in anyway — practices, team meetings, etc. — during the suspension.
The NCAA did accept Louisville’s self-imposed 2015-16 postseason ban, handing Louisville four years of probation, but they did impose a “a vacation of basketball records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible from December 2010 to July 2014.” Louisville won the 2013 national title, and that would be among the 108 games and 15 NCAA tournament wins that would be vacated, according to Chuck Smrt, a former NCAA enforcement director that Louisville has used during this investigation. Louisville also advanced to the 2012 Final Four.
Louisville, and Pitino, made it very clear that they will appeal the NCAA’s punishments, and they are confident they will win the appeal. “Personally,” Pitino said, “I’ve lost faith in the NCAA.”
That appeals process, according to Smrt, could take three months, and unless Louisville wins that appeal, they will be the first team to have a national title vacated.
According to the findings, 15 prospects and three enrolled student-athletes received “adult entertainment and/or sex acts” as well as one friend of a prospect and two non-scholastic coaches. Between seven and ten of the prospects were under the age of 18 at the time of their visit.
The trouble started for the program in the fall of 2015, when the University was alerted to a book that would be published by a self-proclaimed escort queen named Katina Powell that alleged that a former Louisville staffer named Andre McGee and paid for women to strip for and have sex with players and recruits. McGee was given a 10-year show-case penalty by the NCAA.
Pitino was charged with failure to monitor an employee, one of the four Level I violations that the NCAA found in their initial investigation. Louisville contested the NCAA’s finding that Pitino had “violated NCAA head coach responsibility legislation”. Plausible deniability is no longer a defense for head coaches in the eyes of the NCAA. In an effort to prevent the punishment for violations from being dumped on low-level staff members, the NCAA changed their rules to state that head coaches were at fault for anything that happened in their program under their watch whether the NCAA can prove they knew about it or not.
“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 in their findings. “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.”
Louisville fans will still be monitoring whether or not the 2013 title will be vacated. Players that were on that team were involved in the scandal, according to the book. She alleged that as much as $10,000 was paid to the dancers over a four-year period, and that tickets also changed hands.
The entire list of penalties the NCAA handed down can be found below:
Public reprimand and censure for the university.
Four years of probation from June 15, 2017, through June 14, 2021.
A suspension from the first five ACC games of the 2017-18 season for the head coach. During the suspension, the head coach may not be present in the arena where the games are played and have no contact with the student-athletes or members of his coaching staff. The head coach also may not participate in any activities including, but not limited to, team travel, practice, video study and team meetings.
A 10-year show-cause period for the former operations director from June 15, 2017, through June 14, 2027. During that period, any NCAA member school employing the former coach must restrict him from holding any athletically related duties and from having any contact with prospects and their families.
A one-year show-cause order for the former program assistant from June 15, 2017, through June 14, 2018. During that period, any NCAA member school employing him can schedule an appearance before a panel of the COI to determine whether he should be subject to show-cause provisions.
A vacation of basketball records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible from December 2010 and July 2014. The university will provide a written report containing the games impacted to the NCAA media coordination and statistics staff within 45 days of the public decision release.
A reduction in men’s basketball scholarships by two during the 2016-17 year (self-imposed by the university). Additionally, the university must reduce men’s basketball scholarships by four over the probation period. The university may take the reductions during any year of that period.
A prohibition of men’s basketball coaching travel during the April 2016 recruiting period, which resulted in a reduction of men’s basketball recruiting opportunities by 30 (self-imposed by the university).
A reduction of recruiting travel during the July 2016 recruiting period by six days (self-imposed by the university).
A reduction in the number of men’s basketball official visits to a total of 10 during the 2015-16 year. Additionally, the university will have no more than a total of 16 visits during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 years (self-imposed by the university).
During the probation period, men’s basketball prospects on unofficial visits may not stay overnight in any campus dorms or school-owned property.
A disassociation of the former operations director (self-imposed by the university). The public decision describes the details of his disassociation.
A $5,000 fine (self-imposed by the university). The university must also return to the NCAA the money received through conference revenue sharing for its appearances in the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships. Future revenue distributions that are scheduled to be provided to the university from those tournaments also must be withheld by the conference and forfeited to the NCAA.
A postseason ban for the men’s basketball team for the 2015-16 season (self-imposed by the university).
Louisville to appeal NCAA’s ruling; Pitino: ‘We did not deserve any of this at all’
In a press conference following the NCAA’s announcement that Rick Pitino will be suspended for five games and the program will be forced to vacate the 2013 national title, Louisville made one thing very clear: They believe that the punishment they received as “excessive”, and they are going to fight the NCAA’s rulings for as long as they can.
“I’ve lost a lot of faith in the NCAA with what they just did,” Pitino said, adding later that, “I know the committee was sickened by this. So were we. But they made a very large mistake.”
“We did not deserve any of this at all.”
Louisville fans will have roughly three more months to wait on word on whether or not that appeal will be successful — Louisville has 15 days to file their appeal, the NCAA has 30 days to respond, Louisville will get 30 days to respond to the response and then the NCAA will have 15 days to make a final ruling.
The biggest issue here is that the NCAA has ruled that 108 games and 15 NCAA tournament wins from Dec. 2010 through July 2014, including the 2013 national title, will have to be vacated by Louisville. The rest of the punishments levied — four years of probation, a five-game suspension for Pitino, a handful of recruiting restrictions, the 2016 self-imposed postseason ban — are all either relatively minor or less than what many expected, but that banner will be coming down will be a big deal. No school has ever had a national title vacated.
The crux of Louisville’s appeal will center around the value of what was provided. The reason that games are being vacated is that the players involved — according to the NCAA, 15 recruits and three enrolled student-athletes — received impermissible benefits from a member of the coaching staff. They were, in the NCAA’s eyes, ineligible to play at that point.
According to the book published by Katina Powell, the self-proclaimed escort queen that provided the strippers and sex workers, roughly $10,000 changed hands during the four years that this was happening. From a monetary perspective, these benefits are relatively minor and, according to Chuck Smrt, had they been identified in real time, the restitution to keep the athletes eligible would have been made quickly. Louisville even argued in their response to the Notice of Allegations that the value of the benefits meant that these should be Level III, not Level I, violations.
The NCAA, however, determined that the lurid nature of what occurred — a member of the coaching staff paying for “adult entertainment and/or sex acts” for recruits, 7-10 of whom were under 18, and players — the dollar value of said entertainment.
Louisville may have a point, but it does not appear to be a point that the NCAA is going to be willing to concede on.
Five Talking Points from Louisville’s Notice of Allegations
On Thursday morning, Louisville released the Notice of Allegations that they received from the NCAA following an investigation into the escort scandal that enveloped the basketball program.
They got hit with four Level I violations.
You can read the details of the NCAA’s findings here.
Here are four things to know about what these allegations mean for the Louisville program and for Pitino.
1. The NCAA did not allege that Rick Pitino knew: That’s the biggest thing to note here. Pitino himself did get nailed with a Level I violation, a failure to monitor charge. The way the new NCAA rules are structured, there is no more plausible deniability. If it happened within a program, the head coach has to take his share of the blame, and Pitino will certainly have to deal with the fall out of that.
But the NCAA did not find evidence that Pitino himself knew about the escorts or that he sanctioned the parties that they were attending with recruits and players. So while Pitino spent Thursday’s press conference talking himself in circles – he said he “over-monitors” his staff while also saying he’s only “guilty of trusting someone.” – the bottom line is that the only connection he officially has to this scandal is that it happened under his watch.
2. It would be shocking if Pitino doesn’t get suspended: Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and then-SMU head coach Larry Brown, hall of famers that were suspended for nine games apiece at the start of last season, both found that out the hard way that the NCAA will suspend a coach when violations occur in their program. This scandal has been one of the biggest stories in college basketball for more than a year. Pitino is not going to get away without an added punishment, but based on the timeline – Louisville has 90 days to respond to the allegations, and the NCAA has 60 days to handle that response – any additional sanctions, including a coach suspension, won’t be until at least the 2017-18 season.
3. Andre McGee is the hero Louisville didn’t know they needed: Louisville found their fall guy.
McGee, a former staffer that eventually rose to Director of Basketball Operations, killed any chance of continuing his coaching career when he refused to talk to be interviewed by the NCAA in this case. He refused to talk to the media, with ESPN’s Outside the Lines only able to get a ‘no comment’ on tape while McGee zipped away in the Uber he was driving.
He didn’t speak to the media. He didn’t tweet about the case. He never revealed, publicly of off the record, where the money ($5,400 confirmed by the NCAA) came from, how he snuck the girls into the players’ dorm, or if anyone above him in the program gave him the go-ahead.
“I’m not guilty of failing to monitor my staff. I’m guilty of trusting someone,” Pitino said Thursday. “This young man made a very big mistake, and we apologize for his mistakes.”
McGee fell on the sword. The only way that this gets spun as anything other than an over-ambitious, rogue staffer trying to launch his career is if McGee breaks his silence. Until then, Louisville basketball is protected.
4. The 2013 title may not be safe: In ‘Breaking Cardinal Rules’, Katina Powell named players that played on the 2013 title team as having been involved in the scandal. And given that this was happening between 2010 and 2014, it’s pretty safe to assume that at least one player that won a ring was involved. The NCAA has ruled the parties as an impermissible benefit, which would allow them to be able to rule the players involved as retroactively inactive.
The document released by Louisville has names and dates redacted, but it is safe to assume the NCAA within their rights to vacate the 2013 national title season. Chuck Smrt, a former NCAA enforcement director, said, “We don’t believe a vacation of records penalty is appropriate,” but that certainly doesn’t mean the Cardinals are in the clear. The NCAA is notoriously inconsistent with decisions like this, so predicting the outcome is difficult, but my guess would be that the banner is not taken down. The NCAA has never stripped a men’s basketball team of a title, and Louisville self-imposed a postseason ban in February, just four months after this story broke, on a team that had real Final Four potential.
Blaming this all on a rogue staff member and self-sacrificing s postseason was the best way for Louisville to try and save the banner.
5. Will this be the end for Pitino?: He’s been through two sex scandals at Louisville. He’s 64 years old. He is, in all likelihood, looking at a significant suspension in 2017-18. And he has a team that is good enough to make a run at a Final Four.
Use 2016-17 as a farewell tour and then get out of dodge before the repercussions start rolling in. Wouldn’t that be the best way for him to ride off into the sunset?