NCAA rejects U of L's defense of Pitino in recruiting sex scandal
The NCAA response sets the stage for a hearing in front of the governing body’s committee on infractions that is likely to take place this summer.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The NCAA has rejected the University of Louisville’s claim that men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino adequately monitored the program, concluding that Pitino did not seek routine feedback about activities in a dormitory where a onetime aide arranged for strippers and prostitutes to entertain players and recruits.
U of L had disputed the NCAA’s allegation from last October that Pitino failed to show that he closely observed former director of basketball operations Andre McGee, who is accused of arranging the parties. In January, the university argued that Pitino had “exercised appropriate supervisory oversight of McGee.”
But in a 118-page report sent to U of L last Friday, the NCAA’s investigative division determined that “Pitino did not supplement his trust in McGee with frequent spot-checks, including actively looking for and evaluating red flags, asking pointed questions and regularly soliciting honest feedback to determine if monitoring systems existed or were functioning properly.”
"If Pitino saw no red flags in connection with McGee's interactions with then prospective and current student athletes, it was because he was not looking for them," according to the report.
The NCAA response sets the stage for a hearing in front of the governing body’s committee on infractions that is likely to take place this summer. The enforcement staff, which authored the report released Thursday, essentially acts as investigator and prosecutor.
Still unknown are the ultimate sanctions that will be levied against the university, which imposed a ban on postseason play in 2016 and reduced the overall number of scholarships.
In a statement, the university said it continues to regret the NCAA violations by “a former UofL employee.
“His behavior was shameful and wrong. This behavior is the reason we self-imposed severe penalties on ourselves. In this latest correspondence, the NCAA Enforcement Staff's Response reiterates its previous position and, in fact, makes clear that the allegation does not state that Coach Pitino should have detected or known about the violations. We have faith in the NCAA process and look forward to demonstrating at the hearing that Coach Pitino properly monitored his staff,” the statement said.
U of L has not disputed most of the allegations related to incidents first exposed in 2015 by Katina Powell, a former Louisville escort who claimed in the book Breaking Cardinal Rules that McGee paid her to hold parties in Minardi Hall, Louisville’s on-campus basketball dorm.
At the parties, Powell alleges, she provided strippers who made deals to have sex with Louisville basketball players and recruits between 2010 and 2014. The school had disputed the cost of the transactions in some cases, questioned the credibility of several witnesses, including Powell, and strongly defended Pitino’s actions.
U of L also argued it should not be penalized as a repeat violator and should receive some consideration for cooperating fully with the NCAA in its investigation. In its March 17 response, NCAA enforcement staff took issue with most of those positions.
“Put simply,” the NCAA said, “arranging and funding sexual intercourse for a prospective student athlete on an official visit is a severe violation, wholly inconsistent with NCAA principles, whether valued at $80 or $120.”
In his response to the NCAA, Pitino asked through an attorney the enforcement staff to identify the “red flags” that Pitino should have seen that would have alerted him to what was going on. He also said that he conducted spot checks, followed up on recruiting visits and educated the proper staff members on NCAA rules.
The NCAA said that “the factual information in this case does not completely support Pitino’s statements.”
The NCAA report contains little information not already made public. But it does include a remark – presumably from a U of L player or former player -- that “it was common knowledge among his teammates that the adult entertainment was occurring in Minardi. [Name redacted] reported that whenever a highly sought after prospect was visiting the institution, adult entertainers were in the dormitory.”
The report, obtained by WDRB News Thursday under a public records request, also includes a heavily-redacted interview with former program assistant Brandon Williams, who refused to cooperate with the NCAA investigation. He is facing a major violation for not turning over his cell phone as part of the NCAA probe.
The NCAA focused on Williams’ phone and bank records. But the interview, which includes questions about Williams’ relationship with former U of L assistant Mike Balado, is so heavily redacted that it’s difficult to draw a conclusion.
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