The Louisville men’s basketball program will vacate its 2013 national championship and 2012 Final Four appearance after the NCAA on Tuesday upheld sanctions issued in the wake of a sex scandal.
Louisville becomes the first program in modern NCAA history to vacate a national championship.
The program was also stripped of 123 wins dating from 2012 to 2015 after an NCAA investigation found that a member of the coaching staff had provided prostitutes and strippers to players and recruits. Louisville also must pay the NCAA roughly $600,000 in fines, interim university president Greg Postel said at a news conference Tuesday, which stems from revenue the school earned by NCAA tournament appearances from 2012 to 2015.
Postel expressed strong disappointment with the punishment, which marks the latest turbulence for an athletic program that has been immersed in high-profile scandals for much of the past three years.
“I cannot say this strongly enough: We believe the NCAA is simply wrong,” Postel said.
The decision is unrelated to an ongoing FBI corruption probe of college basketball programs, including Louisville, which led to the firing of coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich in October.
The failed appeal of the punishments, which were first announced by the NCAA Committee on Infractions last June, is the final step in an NCAA adjudication process that began in October 2015. The scandal was first aired in a book entitled “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen” by former escort Katrina Powell, who alleged that Andre McGee, a Cardinals assistant coach at the time, paid her $10,000 to provide strippers for dorm parties between 2010 and 2014.
In its eight-page decision released Tuesday, the NCAA Infractions Appeal Committee argued that it held “legislated authority” to force Louisville to vacate its records and pay a financial penalty given the direct involvement of an institutional staff member and the amount of major violations committed.
The body also rebutted Louisville’s appeal, which was filed last fall and was predicated upon the argument that the penalties were excessive and did not follow precedent. The school also argued that the athletes who participated in the violations were not culpable.
“The Committee on Infractions responded to the appeal by stating the penalties were appropriate due to the serious, intentional and numerous violations orchestrated by a university staff member for nearly four years,” the NCAA said in a release. “It further argued that student-athletes do not have to be culpable for the vacation penalty to be appropriate.”
Postel said in a statement Tuesday that the NCAA “ignored” the self-imposed sanctions set by the school in the wake of its own investigation into McGee. Louisville self-imposed a postseason ban in 2016; later that spring, it reduced its scholarships and reduced the staff’s number of recruiting visits by a quarter.
“From Day One, the university has admitted that the actions of the former operations director and any others involved under previous leadership were offensive and inexcusable,” Postel said. “That is why we apologized immediately, cooperated fully with the NCAA, self-imposed penalties that were appropriate to the offenses and made significant changes to ensure incidents like this never happen again. Under the NCAA’s own rules, this cooperation should have been a factor in the severity of the punishment. Instead, it was ignored.”
The Committee on Infractions also imposed a show-cause penalty for Pitino as part of the punishments, arguing he should have better monitored McGee, and suspended him for five conference games. McGee was hit with a 10-year show-cause penalty and is no longer coaching. Former Louisville staffer Brandon Williams was issued a one-year show cause penalty for allegedly not fully cooperating with the NCAA’s investigation; Williams has appealed that decision, but Postel said Tuesday he did not know the status of his appeal.
Postel added that the school is “compiling a list” to comply with the NCAA’s sanctions on removal of the records. The school can no longer publicize its 2013 national championship, when it beat Michigan, 82-76, in Atlanta for its third national title. The school must remove all mention of vacated events from athletic department stationery. It also must take down its banners and “any trophies or other team awards attributable to the vacated contests shall be returned to the Association,” according to the Committee on Infraction’s release.
Louisville’s interim athletic director, Vincent Tyra, said that the school had been “optimistic” about the appeal. Tyra said the school has not formally discussed any plans for further litigation against the NCAA, and while he maintained that Tuesday’s ruling would help bring closure for the program’s fan base, he didn’t definitively rule out further action in the courtroom.
“Honestly, I think it would be a difficult case,” Tyra said. “I would personally probably not be in favor of it at this point. I think the value of trying to beat the NCAA on guidelines is difficult. And I think there’s not a lot of precedent for that happening.”