LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Of the thousands of words delivered in the aftermath of the stinging penalties the NCAA pinned on Rick Pitino and the University of Louisville basketball program Thursday, one continues to resonate.

That word is repugnant.

It was delivered by Carol Cartwright, the chief hearing officer for the Committee on Infractions as well as the respected president emeritus at two universities.

Cartwright called the string of Louisville NCAA violations “repugnant.”

Repugnant is not an overused sports word like unbelievable or clutch that works its way into the talk show conversation every day. It’s also not a word that makes you shrug.

It’s a harsh and sober word, one that I cannot remember invoked to describe the activities that occurred around a Division I basketball program over a four-year period. Not at Syracuse. Not at UNLV. Not anywhere.

That’s the slice of this NCAA fiasco that Pitino, U of L athletic director Tom Jurich, interim president Dr. Greg Postel and others at the university  dismissed, downplayed or overlooked in their Thursday push back against penalties they view as excessive, harsh and worthy of appeal.

This wasn’t a $100 handshake that led to the Cardinals likely having to vacate the 2013 NCAA title, 2012 Final Four appearance and string of victories.

This wasn’t handing a recruit a fancy pair of wireless headphones that resulted in four years of probation going forward for the program.

This wasn’t fiddling with a high school transcript or arranging for a free steak and lobster dinner that will force Pitino to miss the first five games of the 2017-18 Atlantic Coast Conference season.

This was paying for sex for players and prospects who were sometimes 17 years old (or younger) — and I can’t believe I had to write that sentence to make my point.

All of those items are a violation of NCAA bylaws. Only the last one makes you cringe and wonder why there wasn’t more oversight of the good times going on at Minardi Hall.

Trusting Twitter and Facebook to expose what happened in Minardi Hall did not stay in Minardi Hall was not a rigorous defense. Neither was trusting a former player that the NCAA said current players viewed as a peer.

Pitino erred. Somebody needed to jump on him the way he stomps his loafers when a defender misses a rotation. It's called accountability. A coach who knows how many calories his players ingest every day and how many extra jump shots they launch in the practice gym needed more substantial oversight of recruiting visits.

Pitino disagreed. That has been his steadfastly adversarial approach about this mess since it put his program and legacy at risk.

As expected, he’s defended himself. He has reminded his critics of his Hall of Fame record. He was Mr. Fix-It for NCAA issues at Kentucky nearly three decades ago. I have not forgotten that.  

But I wonder if more humility and contrition would have served Pitino and the university better during their 21 months of mostly push back against Katina Powell, the NCAA Enforcement staff, Andre McGee and other bogeymen U of L identified while trying to position the head coach as a victim as much as the responsible party since this sorry tale began to unfold in October 2015.

Didn’t work. Most of Powell’s allegations were confirmed -- no matter how vigorously critics tried to disparage her. Outrageous stuff happened. Whatever oversight system was in place failed. History shows that pushing back against the NCAA rarely work upon appeal. Playing the victim card has its limits.

Especially when the Committee on Infractions found the entire situation repugnant.

Good for the committee. They’re not the only ones. The coach has his supporters but there are also a string of former U of L players like Jerry Eaves, Tony Branch and Butch Beard as well as Cardinals’ fans saying enough is enough.

The nonsense that went on in Minardi Hall would have been repugnant if it happened within the basketball program, accounting department or university foundation.

I’ll share one example from the official infractions committee decision to shine a light on what the NCAA considered “repugnant” behavior:

“A 17-year-old prospect who engaged in oral sex and sexual intercourse with one of the prostitutes offered that he ‘really didn’t know too much about what was going on.’ Prospect 2, who was 16 years old at the time of his visit, described how the former operations director handed him a condom and sent him to a room to engage in a sex act.”

That’s a 10 on my Repugnant Meter.

Believe it or not, other reasonable people are going to be offended by that, too. They’re going to think it’s more than simply a violation of NCAA rules, it’s a violation of decent behavior. The last time I checked, prostitution was also against the law.

They’re going to wonder how nobody other than McGee, a former U of L player and director of operations, could organize, execute, finance and then cover-up this scheme over several years without anybody knowing anything about it.

If McGee were truly that stealthy, coaching should never have been his calling. He should have become the next James Bond.

Only one push back remains for Pitino and the athletic department, taking their case to an appeals committee. So far it has not been a winning formula. That’s unlikely to change. The NCAA is not a fan of repugnant.

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