Updated: 1:30 p.m.
Back in 1993, shortly after Rick Pitino had breathed life back into the Kentucky basketball program, I traveled to Lexington to talk to him about how he turned around a program that only a few years earlier was depicted on a Sports Illustrated cover with the headline, “Kentucky’s Shame.”
His words from 24 years ago are applicable today:
“When they fell here, they fell hard,” Pitino told me, alluding to Kentucky’s NCAA probation that stemmed from payments to recruits. “Right now we don’t want to embrace our success. We want to manage it. It took some reckless moments to lose a great thing. Once you start flaunting your accomplishments, your fall is a lot harder.”
Welcome to the floor, Ricky.
Pitino and Louisville, a perfect pairing in Greedy College Athletics Hell, have fallen — and they don’t deserve a chance to get up.
Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich have both effectively been fired. The school held a 1 p.m. news conference, during which interim president Greg Postel said Pitino has been placed on unpaid administrative leave and Jurich on paid leave. The two cases were handled differently because they have different employers (Jurich is an employee of the university; Pitino an employee of the athletic administration). But it’s common for coaches and athletic officials to be placed on administrative leave before the economics of their exit/firing can be finalized.
WSB’s Zach Klein and I discuss Pitino’s firing on the “We Never Played The Game” podcast here
Next question: Who else will go? Because many should at a university that excels at enabling and has shown no moral compass when it comes to athletics. It’s also worth asking if the Louisville basketball program should be given the death penalty. I lean toward yes.
The FBI announced an investigation into a college basketball corruption scandal on Tuesday. Four assistant coaches from Auburn, USC, Arizona and Oklahoma State were arrested, but that’s expected to be only the beginning. The investigation also includes documents detailing a financial arrangement between a Louisville staff member, an official from Adidas and others to funnel $100,000 to the family of a recruit.
Postel said, “The allegations are troubling to all of us. … It is vital for this university to strictly adhere to NCAA rules and, of course, federal law. To do nothing would be a tacit endorsement of unethical and criminal behavior.”
The school also is withholding “one student athlete from activities.” That athlete is believed to be freshman Brian Bowen, the former recruit allegedly at the center of a $100,000 inducement paid by adidas, according to an FBI indictment.
“You can’t make this up,” J. David Grissom, chairman of the Louisville board, said of the allegations.
Pitino has proclaimed his innocence. Of course. He’s shocked, shocked, that such an arrangement was in place. But when has this man ever admitted guilt about anything?
Pitino has only released a statement through his attorney, saying the allegations “come as a complete shock to me,” and referenced “third-party schemes” that are “initiated by a few bad actors” who “commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs.”
His objective: Deny and stay at a splatter-proof distance.
Pitino has survived his share of scandals. Why? Because he can coach and generates revenue. ‘Merica.
Most recently, Louisville stood by him despite the fact one of his former staff members (Andre McGee) was found to have provided strippers and prostitutes to more than a dozen recruits. Pitino says he knew nothing about it. Because, you now, assistants often go rogue in these situations and pay for strippers and prostitutes for recruits without the head coach’s knowledge.
Louisville is already on probation for the strippers scandal. (It turns out strippers, prostitutes and supplying alcohol to underage recruits is not permissible by NCAA regulations, even at powerful sports programs.) But the Louisville administration stood by Pitino until today because is the university has long prioritized revenue over morals.
I don’t think Louisville is any more moralistic today. It’s just trying to save itself now.
Jurich not only hired and stood by Pitino, he also hired Bobby Petrino. Twice.
Imagine a university that has Pitino and Petrino as you primary leaders of young male athletes?
Louisville may be the gorilla of the guilty parties in the FBI investigation, but it won’t be the only program damaged by this case. This “dark underbelly” (FBI’s apt description) of college basketball – involving shoe companies, AAU coaches, street agents and college coaches – has been the worst kept secret in sports.
With all of the recent baggage, it’s worth asking: Should Louisville basketball get the death penalty? I would lean toward yes. Because in Pitino’s own words: “It took some reckless moments to lose a great thing. Once you start flaunting your accomplishments, your fall is a lot harder.”
Previously on this subject
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