Back when he was still Louisville’s basketball coach — this was Wednesday morning, hours ago — Rick Pitino put out a statement through his attorney, expressing his “complete shock” at the allegations announced Tuesday by federal prosecutors alleging that Pitino’s basketball program, specifically described but unnamed by the feds, had benefited from a promise of cash from an apparel company to a recruit, who chose Louisville.
“If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorneys Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville,’’ read Pitino’s statement. “Our fans and supporters deserve better and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable.”
That covers it, right? Such words worked for Pitino in the past even if maybe Pitino had to blame a rogue assistant who apparently shocked the head coach by using strippers as part of the Cardinals recruiting mission.
This time, the University of Louisville decided the steps needed mean Pitino is out and so is his boss, Tom Jurich, an institution as UL athletic director, a former national athletic director of the year. They both got the word later Wednesday morning in short meetings with the school’s interim president. The official terminology used for both men is administrative leave, but leaving is leaving.
Whether that is enough for Louisville to avoid an NCAA death penalty will all play out. Whether four assistant coaches from three conferences who reportedly got arrested this week end up in prison or do some talking of their own will play out. Whether the apparel companies even stay in the grassroots hoop business will play out. (Spoiler: They will.)
Just know this: Whatever your alma mater, be on edge, if your school plays in the big time. In effect, the whole industry of college basketball has been indicted. (Plus the head of Adidas global sports marketing.) The feds have made it clear, they’re not done. They raided a big-time sports agency Tuesday, reportedly grabbing a computer. They’ve also set up a tip line.
Already, schools from the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Pac-12 and Big 12 have been implicated. One school clearly is South Carolina, which reached last season’s Final Four. Another is Miami. The implicated assistants are from Auburn, Oklahoma State, Arizona and USC. These are big-time places where sports produces big revenue. Pitino won a national title at Louisville, after doing the same at Kentucky. Do not go holier-than-thou, even if that’s harder in the case of Pitino. (Just Google his name and pool table.)
If the charges prove true, assistant coaches making six figures had their hand out for more, and grassroots travel teams sponsored by apparel companies were knee-deep in this.
You want to argue the players themselves should get fair-market value for their skills, you may have a case but that’s probably not the argument that will hold up in court or when the NCAA brings their street-cleaning team in behind this investigation. The system itself is so obviously flawed that the get-arounds quickly become crimes.
(You want to argue these are victim-less crimes, you’ll have to get that argument past any coaches who get fired while playing closer to the rules.)
An attorney friend, who knows the advantages his own Ivy League alma mater brings to the recruiting table, thinks the complaint itself is “weak as hell” and “such an obvious grandstand.” Maybe it isn’t much for a federal bribery case but last time I checked you have to report your income. At the least tax fraud must be in play here.
The larger indictment might be how all this is so ingrained in the system, the actors on all sides begin to assume anything goes as the NCAA stays steps behind, intentionally or not.
“The question of where this stops is the most interesting one,’’ my attorney friend said.
We agree there, my friend. The last 24 hours have indeed been a shock to the whole system.