CRAWFORD | Fall of the House of Cards: Federal allegations a tipping point for U of L
Eric Crawford on the University of Louisville being implicated in today's federal investigation of bribery and corruption in college basketball, and what it means for the university.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The House of Cards has fallen.
Federal investigators did not name the University of Louisville in their investigation into college basketball corruption and bribery unsealed on Tuesday, an investigation that resulted in the arrest of four NCAA Division I assistant coaches and others, but they didn’t have to.
In the stilted parlance of a federal probe, you can find the words, “University-6” and pencil in “University of Louisville.” You can find “Company 1” and scrawl “adidas.” We don’t know who Coach 1 and Coach 2 from U of L are, but we can pretty well surmise that Player 10 is recruit Brian Bowen.
And next to the U of L program, head coach Rick Pitino, its 2013 NCAA championship -- which has been vacated by the NCAA and is currently under appeal – and its next several seasons on the court, you can probably write this:
If allegations included in this federal complaint are true, coming on the heels of the prostitutes-for-recruits scandal for which the program was just sanctioned, the Louisville men’s basketball program is in for several long winters ahead, and a much different landscape when it emerges. The NCAA’s “death penalty” was designed for this kind of disregard for rules.
When acting president Greg Postel acknowledged in a statement that the school, “received notice that it is included in a federal investigation involving criminal activity related to men’s basketball recruiting” it removed any doubt that at least one U of L assistant coach stands accused of having actively participated in a scheme to funnel $100,000 to Bowen’s family from adidas, and a smaller amount to a 2019 recruit.
There is no coming back from this. Not for Pitino. Likely not for athletic director Tom Jurich, who has, according to several sources, encountered an increasingly confrontational board of trustees behind the scenes in recent weeks.
Think about this. The NCAA announced sanctions for the prostitutes-for-recruits scandal on June 15, 2017. Just a month earlier, if the federal complaint is accurate – and part of the basis for the allegation includes telephone conversations intercepted through a cell phone wiretap warrant – there was a “request of at least one coach from University-6 [and other defendants] . . . to funnel $100,000 (payable in four installments) from Company-1 to the family of Player-10.”
In a conversation with another defendant in the case and an undercover agent, adidas representative Merl Code said that, “you guys are being introduced to . . . how stuff happens with kids and getting into particular schools and so this is kind of one of those instances where we need to step up and help one of our flagship schools, you know, secure a five-star caliber kid . . . and that’s an [Company-1] sponsored school.”
Code went on to explain that it wasn’t adidas funneling money to a player, it was the shoe company “engaging in a monetary relationship with a business manager, and whatever he decides to do with it, that’s up to him and the family.”
If true, these activities are not only unethical and possibly illegal, but also negligent and inexcusably reckless on the part of anyone associated with U of L, given the trouble not just the program, but the university itself, was already in.
And the people involved were well aware of that trouble.
In a meeting in a Las Vegas hotel room on July 27 – a meeting in which video recorders and microphones were placed by federal investigators – a discussion ensued on getting a 2019 recruit's family payment to attend Louisville. Noting that the school already was in trouble with the NCAA, a person identified as being an assistant coach at U of L said, “we gotta be very low key.”
Now, understand, this stuff wasn’t primarily about getting kids to go to certain schools. It was about getting elite players to sign with the right shoe company when they went on to the NBA. But to make the scheme work, these guys needed some coaches at universities to play ball.
If a coach (or two) at U of L was involved in this kind of thing, including, as the federal complaint alleges, “making false certifications to the university,” that’s a tipping point.
Nothing happens in a vacuum.
When Rick Pitino faced his own personal scandal in 2007, the program got through it. But then it was compounded with Katina Powell’s allegations in 2015, and subsequent punishment from the NCAA.
I said at that time, we can’t be afraid to go where the facts lead. There’s a lot of opinion surrounding that scandal, and while the facts sat at Pitino’s doorstep, because he is the head coach, they didn’t enter his office, because no one, in any of the mountain of evidence that was uncovered, proved that he knew.
This scandal, however, won’t stop at his doorstep.
This action, if it was as it appears on the federal video recording, shows that the problem is in the bloodstream of Louisville basketball, a willful disregard for the rules so reckless that it must be excised.
Whether he’s one of those coaches with a number or not – and in a federal investigation, unlike with an NCAA inquiry, there will be no room for doubt -- there’s only so much scandal a university can bear.
And a lot of people will have to bear this, if this series of events proves in reality what it appears to be on its face.
Jurich, for all he has done at Louisville, will be in jeopardy. Pitino’s last name would have to be Houdini to survive this. The NCAA would be well within its rights, given that U of L is on probation and was in the midst of an NCAA inquiry process when more serious violations occurred, to hand out enhanced sanctions under repeat violator status. If that were to happen, all current players could be given releases for immediate transfer.
At the very least, the current appeal under way with the NCAA could well be considered dead on arrival.
And then there’s the impact to the city. U of L, already under serious budget constraints because of shrinking enrollment and falling donations, could contract further. And as one of the city’s largest employers, that’s not good.
Not to mention the impact this could have on the KFC Yum! Center. Next week, Louisville Arena Authority officials are scheduled to begin looking to refinance the bonds on the onerous debt the arena has laid on the city. With the arena’s primary tenant on the brink, that could spell bad news.
I wrote last December about stopping Louisville’s cycle of scandal. It hasn’t stopped. From its foundation to its administration to its athletics department, the cycle keeps spinning.
The institution, and I’m not talking about the athletic department, I’m talking about this entire university, cannot allow this to continue.
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