The NCAA has announced sanctions against the Louisville Cardinals for former director of basketball operations Andre McGee’s role in arranging sex and striptease performances for recruits, and they include a five-game suspension for head coach Rick Pitino for failure to monitor McGee’s activities. They also include “vacation of basketball records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible from December 2010 to July 2014,” which could possibly include the Cardinals’ 2013 NCAA championship (which Pitino is seen celebrating above).
This saga dates back several years, and became widely known thanks to escort Katina Powell’s book Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen, which alleged that McGee paid her $10,000 for 22 shows at the basketball players’ dormitory from 2010-14. Louisville’s own investigation concluded last spring and saw the school admit violations occurred, reduce scholarships and undertake a self-imposed postseason ban, but the NCAA has been a bit harsher, especially when it comes to Pitino. They charged him with failure to monitor back in October, and their response to the university in March said “If Pitino saw no red flags in connection with (Andre) McGee’s interactions with then prospective and current student-athletes, it was because he was not looking for them.”
That leads up to what they announced Thursday:
Penalties prescribed by the panel include four years of probation for the university; a suspension from the first five Atlantic Coast Conference games of the 2017-18 season for the head coach; a 10-year show-cause order for the former operations director; a one-year show-cause order for a former program assistant; a vacation of basketball records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible from December 2010 and July 2014; men’s basketball scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions; a fine of $5,000, plus the university must return money received through conference revenue sharing for its appearances in the 2012 to 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships. The panel also accepted the university’s self-imposed 2015-16 postseason ban.
Update: Louisville plans to appeal:
Louisville interim president Greg Postel says the school plans “to appeal all aspects of the penalties.”
Postel says in a statement the NCAA penalties are “unfair to the U of L community and our current and former student-athletes, many of whom have already paid a heavy price for actions that did not involve them.”
…Postel noted that former director of operations Andre McGee, who received a 10-year show cause penalty, “long ago left the university, and he has yet to cooperate with investigating officials.”
“In contrast, U of L did cooperate,” Postel said. “We wanted the NCAA enforcement staff to uncover what happened. We have been open and transparent throughout this process.”
Here are more details on the penalty from the NCAA’s release:
The former operations director was integral to on-campus recruiting and regularly interacted with visiting prospects. The head coach hired him and placed him in Minardi Hall, a dorm where the basketball team lived, to make sure it was run properly and watch for any potential NCAA violations. By his own admission, the head coach and his assistants did not interact with prospects from 10 p.m. until the next morning. The panel noted that the head coach essentially placed a peer of the student-athletes in a position of authority over them and visiting prospects, and assumed that all would behave appropriately in an environment that was, for all practical purposes, a basketball dorm.
This arrangement played a role in creating a location where the former operations director’s activities went undetected. The operations director arranged adult entertainment and/or sex acts for 15 prospects, three enrolled student-athletes, a friend visiting with one of the prospects and two nonscholastic coaches. At least seven, and perhaps as many as 10, of the 15 prospects were under the age of 18 at the time. None of the prospects visiting campus knew that the activities would occur and none of them expected the activities to occur on their visits. Some of them expressed surprise and discomfort at what transpired. The panel noted it has not previously encountered a case like this, and that the violations were severe and were intended to provide a substantial recruiting advantage for the university.
“Without dispute, NCAA rules do not allow institutional staff members to arrange for stripteases and sex acts for prospects, enrolled student-athletes and/or those who accompany them to campus,” said the panel in its decision.
The NCAA report also says Pitino created the environment where the violations occurred, delegated monitoring of McGee to assistants without telling them, and did “not meet his monitoring responsibility by simply trusting an individual to know NCAA rules and to do the right thing.” However, the five-game suspension for him isn’t all that stiff, and many of the school’s other penalties are just what they self-imposed. Some notable things beyond the self-imposed include the return of conference-distributed money for the 2012-15 NCAA tournaments, four years of probation (June 2017-June 2021), and a reduction of four scholarships at any point during that probation period. But while not directly linked to their future success, the possibility of having their title vacated could perhaps be the most painful outcome for Louisville.
The possibility of vacating that title has been discussed before, as players like Russ Smith and Montrez Harrell who were key to that title run were mentioned in Powell’s book. The names in Louisville’s report to the NCAA and the NCAA’s response have been redacted, though, so we don’t yet know who the “student-athletes who competed while ineligible” are for sure, and the university is supposed to provide the NCAA with the list of games impacted. But many journalists covering the NCAA commented on how this seems likely to end with a vacated title:
The NCAA vacating wins appears to indicate Louisville will be vacating the 2013 national title. If not, point of vacating is meaningless.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) June 15, 2017
From the NCAA, this means there's a possibility Louisville's 2013 title could be vacated. Not stating it outright. pic.twitter.com/lIFwh7nkNH
— Luke Winn (@lukewinn) June 15, 2017
We’ll see how this all plays out, but whether those vacated records include the title or not may be the most interesting thing to watch here.