University of Louisville defends Pitino, responds to NCAA allegations
The University of Louisville has acknowledged a high level of wrongdoing and enacted self-imposed sanctions for admitted NCAA violations that occurred when Katina Powell provided women who were paid to strip and have sex during parties for basketball recruits between 2010 and 2014 — but on Wednesday it released its detailed response to the NCAA’s violations, and fired back on several points.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The University of Louisville does not dispute the bulk of the NCAA’s allegations that a former men’s basketball aide arranged and paid for sex-themed parties for recruits and players.
But in a response to the NCAA made public on Wednesday, the university pushed back against charges that U of L Head Coach Rick Pitino failed to monitor former director of basketball operations Andre McGee, who is accused of organizing the parties between 2010 and 2014.
The U of L report comes as the school tries to minimize any possible sanctions against Pitino for his role in the scandal that came to light in October 2015. In fact, the school concluded that Pitino “exceeded the university’s expectations for monitoring the men’s basketball program.”
At the same time, investigators uncovered instances of lax security at Minardi Hall, the dormitory primarily home to U of L basketball players on the Belknap Campus. McGee allegedly brought women into the dorm late at night when a resident assistant was off duty and a security guard "would usually be asleep at the door," the report says.
It says some security cameras didn't work during the "period of McGee's illicit activities," and McGee was able to sneak women into the dorm by disabling an alarm.
"In fact, some apparently colloquially referred to the emergency exit door as the 'dancers' or strippers' door," according to the report.
Investigators also cite a 2012 incident report that "strongly suggests that a security guard who worked at Minardi may have been willing to overlook strippers." The report describes "unwanted sexual advances in the middle of the night by the security guard on duty on a female guest."
According to investigators, after a student manager returned to the dorm with two female visitors, the guard repeatedly came to the manager's room, drank alcohol and "made sexual advances on one of the females in the common area while the student manager and the other female were asleep."
"When the young woman resisted, the guard tried to force the two females to leave the dorm and the student manager called for help," the report says.
The documents made public on Wednesday does not show how the complaint against the guard was resolved.
According to investigators, no one ever told Pitino about any of the incidents involving the security cameras, dorm guards and McGee disarming the alarm.
The university has acknowledged a high level of wrongdoing and enacted self-imposed sanctions for NCAA violations it says occurred. In the 201-page report submitted to the NCAA last week, U of L representatives take issue with only three of the 40 instances of impermissible activities.
School officials, however, ask that those three instances be dismissed because they are based solely on the testimony or writing of Katina Powell, whose credibility they dispute in sections examining her journals, interviews with NCAA officials and her Breaking Cardinal Rules book itself.
The NCAA alleged four Level 1 violations – the steepest charges possible. They include two against McGee and one against Pitino for failing to show that he monitored McGee. In its response, U of L agreed with two of the four violations.
As to the major violation against McGee, U of L acknowledged that “the only conclusion that can be drawn is that McGee arranged the dances, offers and sexual activity to assist in the University’s recruiting efforts. However, the University does not believe these dances or sexual activities greatly assisted its recruiting efforts.”
The report quotes an interview with an unnamed former recruit who said the deciding factor in his decision not to choose Louisville was the “dances and sexual encounter.”
“It kind of turned me off about the school,” said the player, whose name was redacted.
While it agrees that the overall violation against McGee is “collectively” a Level I finding, the university says it believes the individual allegations – including dances and providing sexual activity and cash – should be deemed less severe.
Those allegations are “appalling,” but the “value of the benefit provided is not a large amount,” U of L says.
The university doesn’t take a position on allegations that McGee and former basketball team assistant Brandon Williams refused to cooperate with the investigation.
U of L’s response formally disputes the NCAA’s allegation that Pitino didn’t monitor McGee. In disputing the charge, the university says it believes Pitino “fostered a culture of NCAA compliance within the basketball program and exercised appropriate supervisory oversight of McGee.”
“McGee’s furtive conduct was not detectable by reasonable monitoring practices, as McGee purposefully intended to avoid detection,” U of L says.
The separate 43-page response by Pitino through his attorney, Scott Tompsett of Kansas City, argues that Pitino did monitor the program accurately, while repeatedly asking the NCAA exactly what red flags Pitino missed, or what reasonable spot-checks or pointed questions would have revealed the illicit activities.
More than anything, perhaps, the documents obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act provide an inside look into the university’s year-long investigation, with excerpts of transcripts with coaches, players, residence hall staff, recruits who went elsewhere and with McGee himself, on Sept. 4, 2015.
McGee, a former Pitino player, director of basketball operations and graduate assistant, repeatedly denied having paid money for recruits to have sexual activity with any women during a discussion with university investigator Chuck Smrt, just before the publication of Powell’s book.
When asked, “Who is Katina Powell?” McGee told Smrt that she was “a friend of mine.”
From the response: “McGee said Powell would visit the dormitory and "hang out" and that he also saw her at a night clubs in the city. He indicated he talked to her on the telephone about twice a month, and she came to the dorm on less than five occasions a year. He said she never stopped by but only visited the dorm on his invitation. She sometimes brought her three daughters, although all of them did not visit at the same time.”
Also from the interview, this exchange:
Smrt: Did you ever arrange sex for prospects when they came on a visit?
McGee: Absolutely not.
Smrt: I meant with Katina or friends, but I will make it even more generally, with anybody?
McGee: Absolutely not.
It was the last time McGee would talk with an investigator from any source.
Based on what it said were McGee’s efforts to hide the events in question, and the efforts of those who participated in them, U of L and Pitino’s representatives describe Pitino in their response as a coach who was not likely to have learned of the events through any kind of reasonable monitoring or follow-up.
Even after the NCAA found him in major violation of an NCAA bylaw for failing to monitor McGee by failing to answer pointed questions, investigate red flags or conducting spot-checks, NCAA investigators declined to describe for Pitino’s attorney specific examples of red-flags he failed to investigate or what questions he failed to ask.
Pitino’s response includes interviews in which players denied knowledge of the strippers only later to acknowledge them, and notes that in one case, a player had to be given limited immunity by NCAA investigators before he would speak with them.
"There has never been a case in which a failure to monitor finding was made against a head coach where the facts were even remotely similar to the facts in this case," the response says. "In other words, there has never been a failure to monitor case against a head coach in which there was not some fact, sign, or red flag putting the head coach on notice that a situation under his watch was ripe for NCAA violations. . . . Pitino did everything he reasonably could have done and more to monitor McGee and the dorm, yet McGee was able to keep his illicit activities concealed not only from Pitino, but also from the RA, who lived in the dorm and was trained and paid to monitor the dorm, the security guards, and numerous residents who lived in the dorm.”
Interview details released
The investigative file released Wednesday includes summaries of interviews conducted with former recruits to corroborate Powell’s allegations, but U of L redacted the names of all interview subjects, and also other names and information in the narratives of the interviews.
The document is dated Oct. 15, 2015.
In one instance, an interview subject said he and two other recruits were summoned by McGee to a room in Minardi Hall.
In a portion of the room portioned by a black curtain, McGee gave the recruits 25-40 $1 bills, according to the interviewee.
Then, a “couple” of “girls” came to the room dressed in “dancing outfits,” according to the narrative.
“He (the prospect) said that there were two or three different dances performed but each resulted in a striptease and included lap dances and the like,” according to the document. “…The program lasted 60-90 minutes.”
In another interview – difficult to follow because of redacted information – a recruit described being a room with McGee and “4-5 girls.”
“Girls go into bathroom at once; girls came out, dancing and stripping,” according to the interview description, which reads like fragments of notes. “McGee said come here and hands one a condom: go into bathroom; girl naked.”
To be sure, the notes include other interviews in which subjects said they had never heard of McGee offering strippers or prostitutes to recruits.
Below is U of L's formal response to the NCAA Notice of Allegations:
And this Pitino's response to the NCAA allegations levied against him:
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