Louisville, Pitino ac­cused of NCAA vi­o­la­tions in sex case

Coach de­nies know­ing of il­licit ac­tiv­i­ties in­volv­ing hir­ing strip­pers, es­corts

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Gary B. Graves

LOUISVILLE, KY. — The NCAA ac­cused Louisville of four se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions and crit­i­cized coach Rick Pitino for fail­ing to mon­i­tor a for­mer bas­ket­ball staffer who hired es­corts and strip­pers for sex par­ties with re­cruits and play­ers.

The govern­ing body’s re­port Thurs­day did not men­tion a lack of in­sti­tu­tional con­trol, con­sid­ered the most se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tion in some cases.

Pitino dis­puted the find­ing that he did not mon­i­tor An­dree McGee, say­ing his ten­dency is to over-mon­i­tor. If any­thing, the coach said, he was guilty of trust­ing some­one to tell him what was go­ing on.

“This man [McGee] made a mis­take and we apol­o­gize for his mis­takes,” he said at a news con­fer­ence. Pitino has de­nied knowl­edge of the al­leged vi­o­la­tions.

The NCAA’s let­ter is the first step in a process that could ex­tend into next spring. Louisville has 90 days to re­spond.

The let­ter is the cul­mi­na­tion of an in­quiry that be­gan with the pub­li­ca­tion last Oc­to­ber of Katina Pow­ell’s book, “Break­ing Car­di­nal Rules: Bas­ket­ball and the Es­cort Queen.”

Pow­ell wrote that McGee paid her $10,000 for strip­pers to per­form 22 shows from 2010 to 2014 — a pe­riod that in­cludes Louisville’s NCAA 2012-13 cham­pi­onship sea­son — many in the play­ers’ Billy Mi­nardi Hall dor­mi­tory. The build­ing is named for Pitino’s brother-in-law, who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks in New York.

Com­pli­ance con­sul­tant Chuck Smrt, hired by the school to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions, said he did not think va­cat­ing records was “ap­pro­pri­ate” as a penalty but noted there is prece­dent.

The NCAA’s let­ter lists the value of the im­per­mis­si­ble or ex­tra ben­e­fits as at least $5,400 and cites mul­ti­ple in­stances in which McGee hired strip­pers to dance and have sex with re­cruits.

Louisville al­ready has im­posed its own penal­ties. The most se­vere one was an­nounced Feb. 5: a post­sea­son ban af­ter the school de­ter­mined vi­o­la­tions oc­curred. A month later, the school an­nounced the re­duc­tion of two schol­ar­ships and the num­ber of days staffers could re­cruit.

Neville Pinto, the univer­sity’s act­ing pres­i­dent, and ath­letic di­rec­tor Tom Jurich said the NCAA’s find­ings align with the re­sults of the school’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Jurich said the school would fight the charge against Pitino.

“Im­proper ac­tiv­i­ties took place in a dor­mi­tory that never should have oc­curred,” Pinto and Jurich said in a state- ment. “When­the facts were es­tab­lished, we acted. We took ap­pro­pri­ate puni­tive and cor­rec­tive ac­tions. The penal­ties we im­posed were among the most se­vere penal­ties ever self-im­posed by a NCAAmem­ber.”

Those self-im­posed penal­ties were taken as a way of pos­si­bly less­en­ing NCAA dis­ci­pline and fol­lows mea­sures used by Syra­cuse and South­ern Methodist. NCAA pun­ish­ment went fur­ther in those cases, with nine-game sus­pen­sions each this past sea­son for Hall of Fame coaches Jim Boe­heim and now-re­tired Larry Brown.

It re­mains un­clear whether the NCAA will take the same step with Pitino. Jurich made clear the school’s in­tent to de­fend the al­le­ga­tion and show-cause or­der against Pitino and said he could not have known what oc­curred in the dorm be­cause “if he caught a whiff of what was go­ing on, there’s no ques­tion he’d hit the roof.”

Jurich went fur­ther in the school’s planned de­fense of the coach, say­ing, “We don’t agree with it and we will dis­pute it.”

The NCAA’s 20-page let­ter dated Oct. 17 al­leges that McGee pro­vided ben­e­fits to at least 17 re­cruits and play­ers, two “non­scholas­tic” coaches and one friend of a prospect dur­ing that pe­riod. Names of the play­ers were redacted in the re­port.

McGee did not co­op­er­ate with NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tors and is sub­ject to a show-cause or­der for two vi­o­la­tions. McGee’s at­tor­ney, Scott C. Cox, had no com­ment.

Smrt said the “vast ma­jor­ity” of the ac­tiv­i­ties oc­curred with prospects onof­fi­cial or un­of­fi­cial vis­its at Louisville. He de­clined to say how many even­tu­ally en­rolled at the school, adding, “That would be get­ting into the specifics of the case.”

For­mer Louisville as­sis­tant Bran­don Wil­liams, who hadn’t been pre­vi­ously men­tioned, is also cited in the let­ter for fail­ing to pro­vide re­quested phone records to NCAA en­force­ment staff.

Lawyer Steve Thompson of Nixon Pe­abody, the firm hired by the school as out­side coun­sel, said the vi­o­la­tion is un­re­lated to the core al­le­ga­tions. Pitino said Wil­liams had no re­la­tion­ship with McGee.

The ac­tion by the NCAA has cast a shadow over one of the coun­try’s most prom­i­nent bas­ket­ball schools and led to sev­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions, in­clud­ing ones by the Louisville po­lice depart­ment and the Com­mon­wealth’s At­tor­ney’s Of­fice. Pitino has said in re­cent in­ter­views he be­lieves Louisville’s self-im­posed penal­ties sug­gested by the com­pli­ance con­sul­tant should be enough to sat­isfy the NCAA.

Jurich re­it­er­ated the pro­gram’s steps to ad­dress the al­le­ga­tions from the mo­ment the school be­came aware of them. He and Pitino also said the pro­gram has taken ad­di­tional mea­sures to im­prove se­cu­rity and com­pli­ance to en­sure that the vi­o­la­tions aren’t re­peated.

For now, the school must pre­pare its de­fense be­fore wait­ing to see what the NCAA’s fi­nal word will be.

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