CRAWFORD | Self-imposed FAQ: Jurich and USC, Pitino, Lee and Lewis, more
Eric Crawford answers some frequently asked questions about the University of Louisville's self-imposed postseason ban, its NCAA investigation, and other related matters.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — To loosely quote Crash Davis when Robert Wuhl’s assistant coach character reaches the pitcher’s mound while the infielders are talking during “Bull Durham,” “We’re dealing with a lot of (stuff) here.”
I’m getting a bunch of questions, through email, via Twitter, on Facebook. I don’t have a ton of answers. But I will try my best here to cut through some of the unknowns, or some of the various speculation, surrounding the postseason ban Louisville announced on Friday, plus any other questions that have come about as a result of our recent reporting.
Thanks for reading, and for the questions:
Q: Today, talk radio is buzzing with discussions of Tom Jurich having interest in the USC athletic director job. What do you know?
A: Nothing. I’ve heard the same rumors. Probably from the same sources the radio folks have heard. It’s safe to assume that someone on the Louisville end wants those floated. I’ve heard nothing from people around USC. People I have heard from who cover USC say his name has not come up in discussions there, but that the school is using a search firm out of Boston.
As I’ve said when asked about Pitino — things are in a state of flux. Instability, whether real or perceived, makes you question everything. Yes, Jurich is from Los Angeles County. Yes, it’s a glamor position.
In the time I've been writing this, Louisville sports information director Kenny Klein told WDRB, "Tom is not talking to anyone about any job. USC may have come up because he was born and raised there, but there's nothing to it. His name understandably comes up for all of the big jobs. He prefers not to comment on any of the speculation, but I can speak for him on this one."
Q: I’ve read about the situation of Trey Lewis and Damion Lee, and it just isn’t fair. Don’t they have any recourse? Could they not sue the university?
A: I haven’t heard of anyone suing a university over a self-imposed postseason ban, but I think it would be a fascinating exercise. The short answer here is yes, Lewis and Lee could find a lawyer, put together a complaint and take it to a judge. Depending on the judge, I think they might even get an injunction.
After that, however, things get murky. You’d have the University of Louisville appealing, doing everything it could to maintain its decision (and stay in the good graces of the NCAA).
In some ways, I think an attorney could argue that U of L would not be irreparably damaged by setting aside its ban, since it played the whole season under the assumption that it would play in the postseason, it has been asked by no outside agency to ban itself, and there is little correlation between self-imposed penalties and lighter penalties when violations have occurred.
What makes it so interesting is that it’s not a case against the NCAA — it would just be a case between students and their university.
U of L might have to produce more details on its decision than it otherwise has.
In the end, however, playing college basketball is not a right guaranteed by the courts, nor is playing in the NCAA Tournament. And the courts have generally given wide latitude to institutions in their dealings with the NCAA, which is a voluntary organization.
Given that the NCAA Tournament is only a few weeks away, it’s hard to see where a lawsuit would be worth the time or effort for Lee and Lewis, no matter how fascinating it would be for me as a media member, or how groundbreaking as regards the distasteful practice of schools banning their programs from postseason play in midseason.
But as a total non-attorney, I think they’d have a really good case.
Q: What do you think of Rick Pitino’s idea that colleges and coaches should be fined, so that students aren’t harmed when these decisions are made?
A: I appreciate the sentiment, but I disagree entirely. If all a school caught cheating has to do is write a check, then schools will cheat, and write the check. At least, those who can afford it will.
In this instance, let’s say U of L faced a $10 million fine for these transgressions (though we don’t yet know exactly what they’ve been determined to be). I daresay they’d have little trouble raising that $10 million and going on their way.
This kind of system would make cheating, therefore, “affordable” for big-time schools.
Now, if the NCAA wanted to create a fine in addition to other penalties levied, I could see that. It could create some kind of athlete assistance fund, or add to the one already in place.
Q: How can a school punish itself when it hasn’t even received the official allegations against it?
A: This was the question I asked U of L president Jim Ramsey on the day of the announcement. The easy answer: They can do whatever they want.
The NCAA rule keeping the rest of us in the dark is Bylaw 19.01.3, which prohibits everyone involved from talking about an investigation while it is ongoing.
But at its heart, in my mind, this postseason ban is like accepting a plea bargain without ever having the charges read to you. It may be the most expedient decision for the school, but as a public institution, I think the school at least needs to list the bylaws it believes it has violated, even if it won’t disclose details.
Q: What’s the deal with Pitino, both in this scandal, and for the future?
A: Those are really good questions. Let’s take it in the two parts it was presented. First, as regards the scandal. Pitino maintains that he did not know these things were going on in the men’s basketball dorm. I don’t believe he knew. Larry Wilder, attorney for Katina Powell, said he has seen no evidence that Pitino knew. Katina Powell on several occasions has said that Andre McGee told her that, “Rick knows everything.” But she’s also said, she doesn’t know whether he knew.
Regardless, there’s also the question of whether he should have known. I haven’t heard these terms used in connection to this discussion, so I will bring them up here. Pitino, as head of the basketball program, is responsible for what goes on within his program. So he is responsible for what happened — but he may not be at fault for what happens. To be at fault, you have to have been willfully negligent, to have turned a blind eye to things going on purposefully. I believe that when the NCAA rules, we will get a clear picture as to whether Pitino bears fault for what happened, or merely responsibility.
A side question in this is whether the university could fire Pitino under the morals clause in his contract, or because NCAA violations have occurred on his watch. I have to give former Cardinal and current radio host Jerry Eaves credit for being the first I know to give Pitino’s contract a deeper read on this.
There’s some interesting language there. In the morals clause, the school can fire Pitino for negative publicity “if such publicity is caused by willful misconduct that could objectively be anticipated to bring Employee into public disrepute or scandal.” In other words, in the Karen Sypher situation, the university clearly could have acted under this clause, because of Pitino’s willful misconduct. In this situation, thus far, no misconduct has been proven on Pitino’s part.
The next clause states that Pitino may be fired for any major violation of school, conference or NCAA rules. But that statement is followed by this:
“But with the understanding that Employee shall not be responsible for misconduct of third parties, assistants or other representatives of the athletic interest of the Employer and University, unless Employee was aware of such misconduct and failed to promptly report it to Employer or Employee failed to exercise diligent, careful supervision of the assistants, or other representatives of the athletic interests of Employer and the University which could have disclosed the violation.”
So, from a contract standpoint, Pitino is not responsible for third party actions — unless he failed to exercise “diligent, careful supervision.” The university will have to define that, just as the NCAA has a strict set of definitions for whether a coach is exercising proper oversight, and whether an athletic department is exercising institutional control.
A coach, to some degree, is protected if a rogue assistant breaks rules and works to conceal those violations from the coach and the school, but only if the coach has been doing the right things in terms of proper oversight, which the NCAA outlines.
So this is one reason why whether Pitino knew or didn’t know remains important. We know he is going to bear responsibility. What we don’t know is whether he will bear any of the fault. That will be the NCAA’s call.
As to his future, I really can’t say. I’m not sure he can say. I think his preference and plan is to coach these players again next season, and to see the program through this. But that’s my opinion. I have not had that discussion with him.
Q: But isn’t a coach automatically at fault if something happens on his watch?
A: We’re talking about semantics here, but let me give you a hypothetical, (which may not be so hypothetical). Let’s say I was a resident assistant at U of L for several years while a student there. Some time after I moved on and was in the newspaper business, I heard about something someone on my floor had been doing that, let’s just say, would’ve been against the rules/law. And it went on for years. The guy was doors down for me. For a long time. I didn’t know. And I lived on the same floor as the guy (though not for the whole duration of it).
Now, I wasn’t being paid $6 million a year to keep watch. And it was only one person, not a bunch of people. Would I have been fired had all that been learned while I was still working? I don’t think so. Was I responsible? Yes. Was I at fault? No. Maybe. You start searching back through what you remember, start asking yourself what more you could have done.
Just look at one party Powell describes. It’s the night of Dec. 29, 2012. Louisville has just beaten Kentucky at the KFC Yum! Center. There are some recruits in town. Pitino, it’s my guess, I haven’t asked about this because it will be part of the investigation, spent time with the recruit and his players at the arena after the game, then went out to dinner with family or friends. (In Powell's book, she reports one such night where McGee had planned a "show" but Pitino kept the parties so long talking and reminiscing that they never got to do it).
The players, it turns out, went back to the dorm for a party, at which McGee hired Powell to bring in a bunch of dancers.
Now, should Pitino have checked in at that party? Maybe. Was he to hire someone to keep tabs on it? He did. McGee was that guy. And McGee is the one who set up the impermissible stuff, including buying alcohol for minors, which is no small deal in itself.
Pat Forde and Bob Valvano had an interesting conversation about all this on Tuesday, and one of the things Forde said was that this would have to make you, as a coach, look a lot harder at who you hire, and only put people around you that you felt you could trust implicitly.
But McGee is a guy Pitino coached. When his career overseas was failing, he brought McGee back, gave him a place in Minardi Hall and a graduate assistantship, through which he earned a Master’s Degree. After that, he made him director of basketball operations at $105,000 a year.
A guy like that, you figure, would owe you. A guy like that would not put you in jeopardy. Except that he did.
Of course, many believe he couldn’t have without Pitino’s knowledge. On that, we’ll just have to see.
Q: How is it that this is moving so fast, while a scandal as large as North Carolina’s academic scandal is moving so slowly?
A: Two of the words in this question lead to the answer. The first word is “large.” You’re talking about a wide-ranging investigation over time with many moving parts. Those tend to take longer.
Second, the word “academic.” Violations that are academic in nature have to be concluded first by the school, not the NCAA. In the end, a school has to conclude that its academic policies were violated, and as long as it is following its own set procedures for investigating that, the NCAA can’t get involved until a finding is issued.
While the NCAA determines things like impermissible benefits, the schools themselves determine academic misconduct.
In general, you can’t compare academic scandals to non-academic ones. While the former are more serious, the latter are usually more aggressively, and effectively, pursued.
Q: Why would Louisville keep Pitino and Tom Jurich in the dark on aspects of the investigation?
A: Pitino explained pretty well why he’s kept out of the loop. “In their view, I’m still a suspect,” he said. As for Jurich, I understand the need to have an independent committee made up of non-athletic members. But you would think that as the director of the department, Jurich would be at least privy to the reports that president Jim Ramsey’s special investigative committee is getting through outside counsel Chuck Smrt.
Pitino has called keeping Jurich off that committee a mistake. And perhaps it was, if Jurich’s being on the committee might’ve meant an earlier announcement of this ban — though I don’t know who would’ve been helped by that.
Q: Isn’t the university just protecting itself by the timing and announcement of this ban now?
A: It is. By announcing now, the school not only makes a clear statement to the NCAA, but perhaps salvages the postseason next year, which means saving the recruiting class, and preventing any current players from transferring without penalty.
It is, without question, the best strategy for the university. For the players, it might be the worst.
Q: Did you listen to Katina Powell’s Kentucky Sports Radio interview and do you have any impressions? What do you believe her motive was in all this?
A: I did listen (after the fact — I wasn’t able to catch it all live because the phone kept ringing). It was, for the most part, the same interview she gave a syndicated radio show in Cleveland last November, with some of the same risque details. I thought Matt Jones pressed her in a few areas she hadn’t been pressed before. She estimated that 7-8 members of the NCAA title team in 2013 were involved in parties. Depending on what she meant by “involved,” I don’t find that out of line with what I’ve heard.
Powell has generally been careful not to stray too far from her book on substantive matters. The book already incriminates her. There’s no need to incriminate herself further.
As for motive. It doesn’t matter what she says now. She referred to a future “fortune” in her journal. She wrote, on the second page of the earliest journal we were shown, “Rick Pitino is the ultimate goal. That’s were (sic) the money is!!”
But more than that, in a journal entry recorded in her book, Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen, after she became tired of the more demanding requests of McGee for white dancers and other types of things, she wrote this, which is pretty telling:
“I promise I’m waiting on the right time to take these bastards down. I have made thousands off these (expletive) and plan on making more. I had a lot of offers to do more strip parties with McGee, taking trips to other cities to service guys he knew. It was getting cloudy though. I just have to be smart and patient as well. At the right time, when I decide to tell my story, I will tell my story.”
Now, later on, she says, “It wasn’t to get anything out of anybody,” but those words from the journal are pretty clear. To take people down is a pretty clear statement of intent.
At one point in her journals, Powell reflected that she needed to come up with some kind of confidentiality agreement to have clients sign, “to protect myself.” I found that interesting, since she was the one who would end up going public with everything.
But I will say this. Motive doesn’t matter. She had a right to write her story. As long as what she wrote isn’t verifiably false, her motives don’t enter into it.
But I don’t buy her concerns about young kids being thrust into a sexualized, alcohol-flowing environment on campus visits. If she’d been concerned about that, she wouldn’t have been selling it.
Q: What do you think McGee’s deal was?
A: I don’t know. I think it’s safe to say he had some kind of deeper issue. Not only was he, apparently, arranging these parties for players and recruits, but he was setting up shows for out-of-town friends and coaches with Powell and/or her dancers, men who had nothing to do with U of L, as far as we know. And McGee used Powell’s dancers for himself at least once, at the basketball dorm, with a girlfriend, according to Powell’s journals and her book.
Q: Who was ‘Coach Mike?’
A: That’s a million-dollar question. I don’t know. Nor do I know who called Andre McGee to set up Katina Powell and her daughter with Antonio Blakeney. Nor do I know where McGee got his money — though one of the strange contradictions in all this is Powell on the one hand talking about how much she made, and on the other repeatedly complaining that McGee was slow to pay her.
This concludes our Q&A for today. I think 3,000 words is enough. We’ll jump in, however, as events warrant.
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