Three and a half years. In case you were wondering, that’s how long you have to wait to return to college basketball after overseeing a program involved in a “pay for play” scandal involving recruits. At least that’s apparently the case when you’re Rick Pitino. Fired in October 2017 by Louisville, Pitino will make his return to college basketball in the 2020-2021 season (assuming it happens) as the head coach of the Iona Gaels.

Since  December 2018, Pitino has been the head coach of Greek basketball club Panathinaikos. Last season, they won the 2018–19 Greek Basket League championship and Pitino signed a ​1.5-year contract extension to make him the head coach through the summer of 2021. Apparently not, however.

Matt Norlander is reporting that if Euroleague resumes play this summer, Pitino will return to Europe to finish the season.

Iona coach Tim Cluess announced on Friday that he was stepping down after 10 seasons with Iona due to health reasons and rumors swirled around Pitino, who had apparently been putting out feelers about returning to college basketball. He quickly became a candidate there as well as at Grand Canyon University, which had just fired head coach Dan Majerle.

The details are yet unknown but so are the potential punishments handed down by the NCAA regarding the college basketball scandal that Pitino’s Louisville program was a major part of. The Cardinals were linked to an FBI investigation into allegations that Adidas had paid the family of Brian Bowen $100,000 in order to make him commit to Louisville. Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were placed on administrative leave and then fired shortly thereafter.

The NCAA is expected to finally announce any penalities against programs and coaches in spring or summer 2020. It’s unknown if and what penalities Pitino might face and how that could affect Iona. Of course, we all know how college athletics works and plenty of schools are willing to roll the dice on coaches with troubled pasts if it means more wins.

That said, Pitino is taking over a fairly successful Iona program. Before missing this past season with health issues, Cluess led the Gaels to either the regular-season or conference tournament championship every season between 2012 to 2019.

While it’s something of a homecoming for the NY-born Pitino, he brings plenty of baggage with him to New Rochelle. Along with the aforementioned Louisville scandal, Pitino was also wrapped up in a sordid escort scandal in 2015 and got wrapped up in an extortion attempt in 2009 following an extramarital sexual encounter with a woman in a Louisville restaurant.

Of course, he’s also taken three different schools to the Final Four and won a national title, so those are the things that likely came up when listing out the pros and cons of hiring Pitino.

Whether Pitino is able to keep his head down and get back to coaching basketball, and if he’d even want to just keep his head down, remains to be seen. Iona is certainly making a big splash but it’s one that comes with a potentially big cost in terms of reputation. What price are they willing to pay to maintain the level of success they’ve had over the last decade? We’re about to find out.

[Matt Norlander]

About Sean Keeley

A graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Keeley is the creator of the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and author of 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse related things for SB Nation, Curbed, Neighborhoods.com, and many other outlets. He currently lives in Chicago.