CRAWFORD | The defense rests: After 10-hour hearing, Louisville's fate now in NCAA's hands
A long process concluded with a long day when the University of Louisville made its case to the NCAA committee on infractions. Now, it must wait to see if it faces additional punishment for violations in its men's basketball program.
CINCINNATI (WDRB) – The University of Louisville basketball program, after a year-long investigation and months of back and forth with the NCAA, finally got to make its case in person Thursday.
It was a long day. Louisville’s hearing in front of the NCAA committee on infractions began at 8:30 a.m. at The Westin Hotel in downtown Cincinnati. It didn’t end until nearly 7:30 Thursday night. In between, NCAA enforcement officials made their case against U of L in the matter of a salacious sex-for-recruits and players scandal that rocked the program in October of 2015 after the publication of a book by former Louisville escort Katina Powell.
U of L athletics director Tom Jurich and men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino presented their rebuttals, with committee members asking questions of the coach and U of L representatives.
Details of the hearing are confidential. Louisville officials were prohibited by the NCAA from answering questions about the proceedings Thursday. A post-hearing look at the Presidential Ballroom where the meeting unfolded showed long tables set up in a rectangle. U of L officials sat on the left side of the room, from the entry door, with NCAA officials on the right. A court reporter was stationed in the middle of the room. Two directors for the committee sat at one corner of the rectangle, with the committee’s general counsel across from them.
Louisville’s contingent was led by Chuck Smrt of the Compliance group, an expert on NCAA matters, and attorneys representing the university and Pitino. Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich and acting president Dr. Greg Postel, the third man in the president’s chair since this scandal began, also appeared before the board, as did former program assistant Brandon Williams, accused of a major violation in the NCAA’s original charges.
Not appearing at the hearing was former Louisville director of basketball operations Andre McGee, who is alleged to have paid Powell to provide strippers for parties in the men’s basketball dormitory, strippers who then made deals to have sex with recruits and players. McGee did not cooperate with any part of the investigation.
Pitino did not speak with reporters afterward, and Jurich’s comment was brief, much of it dealing with the Postel, as if he were beginning the case to make Postel’s presidential appointment permanent.
“It was a long day, but very productive,” Jurich said. “We said from Day One that we’d tell the truth, and we’ve done that. I was extremely impressed, this was my first time, really, to be around Dr. Postel, certainly in a very challenging environment. I couldn’t be more proud of him and look so forward to working with him now in the future. I always say to my staff, you like to evaluate people when you’re going through adversity. Well, this is adversity. Seeing him stand up for our institution and for our athletic department, and to stand for what is real, I was so impressed. So I look forward to (that) with Dr. Postel. I think our university is in great hands. And I can’t say that enough.”
On the subject of the hearing, Jurich, continued, “We exchanged all of our information and the enforcement staff gave all of their information. The committee on infractions listened, they asked questions when they felt were needed. I think it was very, very thorough, and I think it goes without saying that I can’t wait to get this behind us. I’ve been told, in there, that we are not allowed to answer any questions, I’m told that until this is resolved, the thing it looks like it could be resolved in 6 to 8 weeks.”
Postel’s comments, released in a statement after the hearing, went along the same lines and concluded, “We look forward to the final resolution of this matter.”
How the matter might be resolved, however, will be the subject of intense speculation in the coming weeks.
It is the contention of Smrt, a one-time NCAA official who has built a career and a reputation on expertly handling NCAA matters, that the accusations against the school do not rise to the level of vacating its 2013 NCAA championship or its 2012 Final Four.
On his advice, then-president James Ramsey instituted a self-imposed postseason ban at the end of the 2016 season, and docked the program two scholarships while taking the coaching staff off the road for a month during recruiting season.
A series of filings between the university and enforcement staff highlighted key differences the two perceive in the case. U of L argued a number of seemingly minute financial points, aimed not so much at proving any kind of innocence but at equating these infractions with others the NCAA has punished and arguing that they should stay in line with those.
Just as anticipated is the NCAA’s handling of Pitino. He was alleged to have committed one major infraction – failing to monitor then-director of basketball operations Andre McGee. The NCAA didn’t allege that Pitino knew about the strippers in the dorm, nor did it allege that he should have known. But it made the case that Pitino’s failure to monitor McGee was egregious enough that he could face a suspension or even a show-cause penalty, the heaviest penalty the NCAA can levy, which follows a coach no matter where he works in the NCAA.
Pitino argued in a response to the NCAA that the reason he didn’t follow up on red flags was because he didn’t see any. And when the NCAA countered that he didn’t see them because he didn’t ask pointed questions, Pitino pointed out that even when the NCAA questioned players involved in the scandal, many initially lied to investigators.
“I’m very comfortable with what our program has stood for through my years here and what I’ve stood for as a coach and the assistants I’ve helped bring into the head-coaching profession,” Pitino said last week before the hearing. “I’m looking forward to making my case.”
Now, the cases have been made, and it’s all over but the waiting.
For U of L, a close to this chapter will be a major step in moving forward from what have been troubled times for the university, the resignation of president James Ramsey, a brewing scandal within the university foundation, financial difficulties as a result of all those things.
U of L believes it has levied enough sanctions on its men’s basketball program and doesn’t want to see the image of its Hall of Fame coach further tarnished by actions of others that he, according to the evidence, did not know about.
Whether the NCAA sees things that way, and how much it decides to add to the penalties U of L has already enforced, will have a lot to do with how quickly Pitino and the program can close the book on this embarrassing episode. With a team that expects to be highly ranked and among the favorites to win an NCAA title next season, the program is ready to move on.
But the NCAA gets the last word. And for that, the wait continues.
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