NCAA Takes Aim At Rick Pitino In Sex Scandal

Not surprisingly, Pitino is trying to dodge the blame

Getty Images
Mar 24, 2017 at 12:19 PM ET

Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, a “legendary control freak,” has once again tried shirking responsibility and accountability in an ongoing sex scandal allegedly orchestrated by former director of operations Andre McGee, who is said to have paid for strippers and sex workers for recruits.

At stake is an NCAA Level I infraction, which would include at least a multi-game suspension for Pitino, who has denied the charges. Regardless, the suspension seems inevitable after the association’s enforcement group sent a scathing reply to Louisville’s rebuttal.

“If Pitino saw no red flags in connection with McGee’s interactions with then prospective student-athletes,” the NCAA wrote, “it was because he was not looking for them.”

At issue is an October 2012 update to the rules, essentially charging head coach’s with supreme sovereignty over their staffs: “NCAA Division I Bylaw states that an institution’s head coach is presumed to be responsible for the actions of all assistant coaches and administrators who report, directly or indirectly, to the head coach.”

Admittedly, a bylaw with three enumerated subsections indicates just how arcane and bureaucratic the NCAA’s governing structure is, but the sentiment therein is rather simple: the buck stops with the head coach.

“You cannot completely delegate responsibility,” the NCAA wrote to Pitino.

And reportedly it wasn’t much of a secret that adult entertainers would be around for blue-chip prospects.

Louisville is a sufficient basketball powerhouse that annual NCAA tournament berths are rarely an issue—except for the self-sanctioned 2016 absence as part of this incident—so if Pitino misses a few regular season games, it’s hardly a blow to their chances at contention. But his legacy could be tarnished especially if any members from the 2013 national champions were involved.

Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Tim Sullivan raised that point while noting that the university-appointed investigator, Chuck Smart, dodged that question at a press conference and reported that the school’s former compliance officer David Ridpath said he believed the title would “stay intact” but said its retroactive forfeiture was “certainly a possibility.”

That the Cardinals have already imposed some punishment (the aforementioned postseason ban, a reduction in scholarship, and recruiting limitations) will curry some favor with the NCAA, but the body is still targeting Pitino, who has heretofore skirted any real punishment. The intention of that esoterically delineated NCAA bylaw is to prevent head coaches from getting off easy while lower-ranking staff members take the fall, and that’s exactly what the university is trying to facilitate.

“We continue to regret that NCAA legislation was violated by a former UofL employee. His behavior was shameful and wrong. This behavior is the reason we self-imposed severe penalties on ourselves,” Louisville said in a statement Thursday. “In this latest correspondence, the NCAA Enforcement Staff’s Response reiterates its previous position and, in fact, makes clear that the allegation does not state that Coach Pitino should have detected or known about the violations.

“We have faith in the NCAA process and look forward to demonstrating at the hearing that Coach Pitino has properly monitored his staff.”

This is no surprise: as one media observer noted, Pitino is no stranger to passing the blame, such as on Sunday when Michigan upset his team in the NCAA tournament.