CRAWFORD | The power of TV, and thoughts on Tuesday's Louisville - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | The power of TV, and thoughts on Tuesday's Louisville scandal news

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — This is the power of television. Every substantial allegation Katina Powell made to ESPN on Tuesday, she already had made in her book — though she endeavored to clear up a few things that the book inexplicably left fuzzy, and added one assertion that she had made before, on Oct. 3, in print, that she believes Rick Pitino knew what was going on in her sex-for-recruits scheme, and that Andre McGee said “Rick knows everything.”

Words in print have power and depth. But the woman talking in your living room is another thing entirely.

I come from the world of print. I still, admittedly, have a print mindset, though I did spend most of Tuesday on television. and didn’t even begin writing this column until 8 p.m. But for me, a fact is a fact whether it has been in print or on television. It’s all the same.

The reaction to today’s news proves that for most of the world, that is not the case.  Keep that in mind during the following (admittedly long-winded) discussion.

Here’s what I thought the biggest news of the day was, and it was passed over in just a few seconds of ESPN’s Outside the Lines report: ESPN says it independently verified that the text messages Powell provided were from a phone number belonging to McGee.

It’s the first time an independent news organization — not the book’s publisher — has claimed to verify the authenticity of those text messages.

And as I’ve said since the story broke, those text messages are where the truth of this story lies. Powell can talk all she wants. Rick Pitino can talk all he wants. Andre McGee, if he ever decides to talk, can say anything he wants.

You find Powell unbelievable? Doesn’t matter. What do those messages say? You can’t believe Pitino? The text messages have no spin. They are a real-time record. If the text messages don't fit, you must acquit.

If those text messages are legit, they demonstrate that McGee arranged meetings with Powell for the purpose of providing sex for recruits, and then it’s all over but the haggling.

ESPN may have brought that reality into more living rooms today with Powell’s interview -- and by its reporting on new confirmations from several former U of L players and two former recruits who went elsewhere. But I’m still stuck on the texts. I want to see what every, single one of those messages says. What the timeframe was. Did they demonstrate a relationship between McGee and Powell (as they seem to at times)?

And I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why you could be in possession of pages of them and not publish them all.

There were, frankly, plenty of questions not asked of Katina Powell. It’s the price of getting the interview. Powell and her attorney, Larry Wilder of Jeffersonville, went to ESPN, which gave her the full “car wash” treatment, and then some. Her “Outside the Lines” interview with reporter John Barr did not stray from the script of her book, nor did any of her subsequent appearances that I saw, but it appeared on Good Morning America, ESPN’s SportsCenter and Outside the Lines, then she appeared on ESPN Radio with Dan LeBatard and the ABC affiliate in Louisville. About all she didn’t get was a trip to the Magic Kingdom and a guest spot on the Disney Channel.

(And credit ESPN for pretty much dominating the field Tuesday. Once a subject’s attorney is on board, there’s a lot you can do, and they did it. They saw the journals — though apparently just photocopies. They asked for access to the text messages. They have a reporter live in Louisville. And probably most importantly, they got both of Powell’s daughters on camera. More on that in a bit.)

For all of that, she wasn’t pressed too much, and that’s an important thing to remember. What did Powell say that has stuck in my mind?

Again, you’re going to think this an strange detail. Shoot, it was even in the book, but it didn’t hit me when reading it. In talking about McGee, she said, “Andre was the one who always had the money. Passed out the money. Made it rain. Made the deals. Paid for the deals. He would start the music and usually the girls would come out one by one.”

Thirty-second timeout. Stretch it to a full. McGee was the DJ? He’s in charge of the money and the music. I’d have to find out what songs. We’re told of one in the book, “Racks on Racks.” If he played “Sandstorm,” everybody is fired. But I digress.

Why do I stop here? Because of the picture this paints. Because I think, sitting in this (alleged) makeshift champagne room in the U of L players’ dorm, we get the best picture of the insidious nature of what is alleged, and what was confirmed to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman by three former U of L players and two recruits who went elsewhere. Here, in this room, with the music pounding and (alleged) strippers entering one-by-one like a starting lineup, you get the picture.

Let me put it this way. Let’s say the doctor orders me not to eat pizza. It’s bad for me. I’m to avoid it at all costs. And I comply. What happens, then, when someone drops a pizza in my lap? I look around. Everyone else is eating. I can smell it. It’s sitting there in my lap. Will people think I’m weird if I don’t eat it? Now, put me on a recruiting trip and there’s an additional set of questions. Am I being judged on how I react to this pizza? Am I supposed to eat the pizza, am I expected to? I mean, look, the coach up there who put the music on ordered the pizza. I’m sorry to tell you, I might have a slice — when otherwise I never would have.

I believe it was Mel Brooks who once said, “Sex is like pizza.” Of course, in this instance, with these high school kids, we’re not talking about pizza. And that’s the problem. If even a watered-down version of these allegations proves to be true, then this is no kind of way to run things. Tom Jurich knows it. Rick Pitino knows it. I don’t believe they knew what was happening at these parties, or even that they knew the parties were happening, but if they were going on, it’s really bad.

Powell’s daughters appeared on Outside the Lines to corroborate their mother’s stories. One said she had sex with Montrezl Harrell. Another said she had sex with Russ Smith. Neither was asked when. One couldn’t exactly remember the amount paid. One said she was paid nothing. I suppose the NCAA can check that one off its list. ESPN left off asking about details like dates and occasions, because it bogs down the narrative, and likely such things might’ve been ruled out of bounds by Powell’s attorney. But these are the kinds of things Louisville’s investigators, and the NCAA’s, will want to nail down. Why Powell’s publishers didn’t seek more specificity in dates, I’m not sure. They have a text message trail. They have journals, which presumably are dated. Sometimes the book gives exact dates, sometimes not. If I’d turned that book in to any of the editors I’ve had, it would’ve been returned with red marks. But the spaces will be filled in, eventually. They started to be on Tuesday, with more (anonymous) U of L players coming forward to speak, and a pair of former recruits confirming allegations of strippers in the dorm.

Powell believes Pitino knew. She’s not the only one. My colleague Rick Bozich does. Others have said they believe. Colin Cowherd, for one.

Here’s Powell’s money quote: “This is my theory. Four years, a boatload of recruits, a boatload of dancers, loud music, alcohol, security, cameras, basketball players who came in at will. How could Rick not know?"

It’s a compelling quote. Sounded great on camera. Probably ran on most sportscasts in America. You’ve probably heard it ten times. Except you probably didn’t hear the, “This is my theory,” part.

This is my theory. Why wouldn’t Rick Pitino have known? Because every transgression brought to him, even minor ones, drew a swift response (often followed by public criticism). He suspended Chris Jones for a game for not surrendering his cell phone last season. There was reason to keep Pitino in the dark, if you wanted to keep your teammates around you.

Second, I don’t think he knew because condoning such behavior would’ve harkened to his problems of 2009, when he was forced to admit an extramarital encounter with a woman who then tried to extort him. If you know him, you know he went to great pains to avoid things that would bring that subject back into public discussion. He went into it once, in a book we worked on together. I don’t believe he’s spoken of it since.

Third, he had too much to risk. Bozich points out that he didn’t have much to lose in 2010 when this began. Even though, in July of 2010, he was right in the middle of that prior scandal, would testify in court in September of 2010, and didn’t really emerge from it until 2011. So we’re to believe that in the midst of a painful time of personal upheaval, he was somehow going right back into the fire by striking a match to more risky behavior? I don’t buy it.

Fourth, this doesn’t bear the attention to detail that Pitino’s projects usually show. If you’re going to deal with someone under the table, you’d better be able to either trust them or pay them enough to keep them quiet, to put it bluntly. Pitino knew this.

Fifth, even if you believe he set it in motion somehow in 2010, why keep it going after 2013, when you’ve won the NCAA championship and gone into the basketball Hall of Fame? Why continue this high-risk behavior even after that championship, and into 2014? Quite simply, it just wasn’t worth the risk.

Sixth, the alleged actions took place in Billy Minardi Hall. Pitino raised the money for that building. He paid for the naming rights himself. Minardi’s children and wife moved to Louisville. People always point to his behavior with Karen Sypher in 2003 as some proof that Mindardi’s memory didn’t mean much to Pitino, given that his wife is Minardi’s sister. I don’t presume to know anything that goes on within the marriage of any couple. I do know they both went through a traumatic experience. He apologized for what he did, publicly and privately. I believe next year will be their 40th wedding anniversary. If you’ve been married that long or longer, have at them. Regardless, doing something for Minardi was important to him. It remains important to him. I don’t think he would’ve tarnished that legacy.

In his book, The One-Day Contract, Pitino cautioned, “With technology today, you can’t do anything without everybody finding out within minutes. If you’re drinking alcohol, the public will know. If you’re doing the right thing, the public will know. Your life is an open book now.”

I’m not alone in my reasoning on Pitino. Jay Bilas of ESPN said on Tuesday, “I believe it’s absolutely true that he didn’t know what was going on. Not only that he didn’t know, but I think others within the program, I don’t believe Richard Pitino, his son, who was on the staff during a portion of this, knew anything about this. Now if circumstances and the facts prove otherwise, then I’ll absolutely admit that. But with what I have seen and knowing all these people involved, I cannot believe that Rick Pitino had actual knowledge or implied knowledge that any of this was going on.”

And from ESPN’s Seth Greenberg: “I’m surely not a coach’s apologist, but I can’t imagine a scenario where Rick Pitino would have known this and condoned it.”

That becomes important, not so much in the long-term ramifications for Louisville basketball, but it is important for Pitino’s legacy, I think, and it is important in the short-term for how Louisville proceeds.

The more important question becomes not, “Did Rick Pitino know?” but, “Should Rick Pitino have known?” And the answer from the NCAA standpoint is yes. The coach bears responsibility. Pitino knows this. Jurich knows this.

And this was the topic for a good portion of my appearance on Outside the Lines Tuesday. “Should he have known?” isn’t just a question being thrown around on talk radio, I’m guessing it’s a question Pitino has asked himself many times over the past several weeks.

If some of these things happened, and leaving off anything Powell said on TV Tuesday, there may well be dispassionate, cold evidence out there somewhere in text messages and phone records and perhaps in the trail of expense receipts and money and the typical stuff that attorneys sift through every day to get at the truth, then Pitino has to face the fact that people he hired failed him. And I’m not sure how much stomach he’ll have for continuing, having come this far in the profession, after that.

The game has not passed Pitino by. But if even portions of these allegations are true, important things sailed over his head. It would be tough to recover from that. He knows that.

But now is not the time for him to step down. Actually, let me back up. Now would be a perfect time for Pitino to step down — for his own purposes, in some ways. It would be better for his health, better for his sanity, better for his life. But it would not be better for the program. And it would not be better for his legacy.

What Louisville needs in the short term is for Pitino to coach this team as well as he can, and win as many games as he can win. And it needs to finish this investigation as quickly and thoroughly as it can, and determine what version of the truth it can agree upon with the NCAA.

At that point, it can make a determination on Pitino, or with Pitino. If, at any point it encounters proof that Pitino knew, it will have to make an immediate move. But barring that, to send him away hastily would actually harm the program more. And if, somehow, these allegations were to fall apart, the school would look even worse.

Yes, it was a day filled with bad ESPN publicity. Yes, there could be more on the way. But it isn’t going to stop if Rick Pitino leaves town. There are compelling reasons to leave Pitino in place, at least for the time being, even if it promises to be a long, difficult season. Hiring some interim to sit through those slings and arrows may slow them temporarily, but the larger problem for the program remains.

Finally, what’s next? And what are the NCAA ramifications? U of L needs to get more of its story — if it has any kind of defense — out there as quickly as it responsibly can. It shouldn’t rush into some kind of mistake, but following up a day like Tuesday with some kind of credible answer is about the only way to counter the kind of bad publicity it got. Powell has talked to Inside Edition. She’ll do other interviews. She’s on offense now. We’re repeatedly reminded, that only one side has come out. At some point, the other side needs to answer.

Pitino calling for Andre McGee to talk isn’t likely to make it happen.

As for the NCAA, to speculate on what it might do when we don’t even have any kind of stipulation as to the facts just wouldn’t be responsible. We have no idea. I will say, Pitino’s lengthy clean slate with the NCAA could help. As could Jurich’s. But in the end, as both men have said, if there has been wrongdoing, someone will have to pay.

In my desk drawer is a timeline. It starts in March of 2006 and ends in April of 2007. I keep it there to remember. It is a list of events in the Duke lacrosse case. That story went from universal condemnation to the media wondering why no one had tapped the brakes. But before the truth was known, heads rolled. The program was suspended. More than a tough day on ESPN, Duke was skewered by Nancy Grace, who said on the air, “I'm so glad they didn't miss a lacrosse game over a little thing like gang rape!" The day after all the charges were dismissed, Grace took the night off. 

Richard Broadhead, the president of Duke University, said to a gathering of Duke’s law school in 2007, as reported by Salon.com: “When I think back through the whole complex history of this episode, the scariest thing to me is that actual human lives were at the mercy of so much instant moral certainty, before the facts had been established. If there’s one lesson the world should take from the Duke lacrosse case, it’s the danger of prejudgment and our need to defend against it at every turn.”

I think that’s all I’m still looking for, even now. The establishment of facts. It will come in time. I suppose I feel the need to defend against prejudgment, while not glossing over the unseemliness of the allegations, nor the slow mount of anonymous yet disquieting confirmations with each week that passes. But regardless of what you believe, it’s less about the sensational sound bites and more about the cold, boring facts, even after Tuesday's TV tumult.

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