The NCAA ruled Thursday that Louisville men’s basketball Coach Rick Pitino failed to monitor his program during a high-profile escort scandal, slapping him with a five-game suspension and starting a process that could force the school to forfeit its 2013 national championship.
In a highly anticipated report, the Committee on Infractions panel said the school must vacate records from December 2010 to June 2014 that involved ineligible players. The school must submit a written report within the next 45 days to the NCAA that details the games impacted by athletes who were involved in the sex-for-recruits scandal. According to the school, the Cardinals could have to forfeit 108 regular season wins and 15 NCAA tournament wins, including the 2013 title game.
Calling the punishments unfair and unjust, school officials said they intend to appeal the committee’s findings and punishments.
“None of us do not feel extreme remorse, regret in everything that went on inside that dormitory,” said Pitino, who met with reporters Thursday afternoon at a news conference in Louisville. “We’ve said that many, many times. But this is over the top. It’s to the point where it’s not even conceivable, what I just read.”
Chuck Smrt, the former NCAA enforcement director whom Louisville retained as consultant on the matter, said school officials were taken aback by Thursday’s report. “The severity of this penalty we think exceeds the severity of this case,” he said.
While the NCAA report confirmed that former director of basketball operations Andre McGee arranged for dancing or sex acts in an on-campus dormitory for three players, 15 recruits — at least seven of whom were underage — a friend of one prospect and two coaches not associated with the school, the committee came down hard on Pitino for putting McGee in a position of authority.
“Although the panel did not conclude that the head men’s basketball coach was aware of the activities, he did not exercise sufficient oversight of the former director of men’s basketball operations. … Therefore, he did not meet his responsibility to ensure violations were not occurring,” the report stated.
The report noted that Pitino, 64, said his assistant coaches were responsible for monitoring McGee, but the assistants told investigators they had no knowledge of that responsibility. “The former director of men’s basketball operations was the head coach’s ‘watchdog’ in the dormitory and an extension of the head coach,” the report stated.
Pitino defended his program at the news conference and said, “Personally I’ve lost a lot of faith in the NCAA.
“We are embarrassed about what went on. We’re extremely contrite about what went on,” he said. “But one person does not determine the worth of what we’re about as a program.”
In addition to suspending Pitino for the first five ACC games of next season, the school was also placed on four years’ probation, fined $5,000 and ordered to return money related to NCAA tournament appearances from 2012 to 2015. Depending on the school’s findings, the program might have to forfeit its Big East titles in 2012 and 2013, its 2012 Final Four appearance and most importantly, the 2013 national championship, an 82-76 win over Michigan.
McGee also was given a 10-year show-cause penalty Tuesday.
The scandal broke open in October 2015 when Katina Powell, a self-described “escort queen,” wrote a book detailing her relationship with the Cardinals’ basketball program and McGee, alleging she was paid $10,000 in a four-year period for providing women — including her own daughters — to dance and have sex with Louisville players and recruits at an on-campus dormitory.
In October 2016, the NCAA charged the school with four Level I infractions and cited Pitino with failure to monitor his program. Louisville contested the charges, saying Pitino had no knowledge of McGee’s actions or what took place in the dormitory. The school had the opportunity to formally respond to the NCAA’s notice of allegations and plead its case in a court-like hearing in front of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.
The committee held a nearly 11-hour hearing with Louisville officials in April, a meeting Pitino later described as “one of the most difficult days.”
Pitino, who’s entering his 17th season as Louisville coach, had contended that he was unaware of McGee’s activities, an assertion supported by the committee’s report.
“No one who was interviewed during the investigation provided any information showing that the head coach was aware of the stripteases and prostitution. In fact, the prospects and enrolled student-athletes made it a point not to talk about the incidents,” the report stated. “Even those that said they were unaware if the activities were NCAA rules violations did not want the coaches or their parents to find out. … The prospects and enrolled student-athletes all knew that if the head coach became aware of the incidents, he would have — as one put it — ‘flipped out.’”
Carol Cartwright, the NCAA committee’s chief hearing officer, said Pitino still bore responsibility for what happened under his watch.
“A head coach does not meet his monitoring responsibility by simply trusting an individual to know NCAA rules and to do the right thing,” she said.
In February 2016, Louisville’s former president said it was “reasonable to conclude” that violations occurred, and in an effort to preempt NCAA punishments, the school announced self-imposed sanctions. The program barred itself from postseason play in 2015-16 and later cut two men’s basketball scholarships over a three-year period, while also limiting coaches’ travel and reducing the number of on-campus recruiting visits. The committee accepted those sanctions, while adding more.
“I didn’t see this coming, to be perfectly candid,” Tom Jurich, the school’s athletic director said. “I thought we did everything above and beyond when we found out about this incident. I think my biggest disappointment is with the [NCAA] itself.”
Pitino’s suspension is less severe than punishments previously meted out to Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and SMU’s Larry Brown for violations within their programs. Both were suspended for nine games — 30 percent of the season. The Cardinals hope an appeals committee will lessen it even more.
“I just feel we are devastated by the news,” Pitino said. “All of us are. But that being said, moving forward, we believe we will win the appeal because it is right and it’s just. What went on is unjust and inconceivable.”