LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The NCAA has ordered the University of Louisville to vacate its 2013 men's basketball championship and strike years of wins and player statistics from official records, doling out a historic punishment for a sex scandal that tarnished one of college basketball's most successful programs.
The university made the announcement Tuesday afternoon after it lost an appeal of the sanctions first announced last June. It becomes the first men's basketball championship in NCAA history to be struck down.
U of L also will have to vacate victories between 2011 and 2015 and its 2012 Final Four appearance, and return to the NCAA at least $600,000 in postseason revenue.The statistics of players during that era also will be removed from record books.
"I cannot say this strongly enough," interim U of L President Greg Postel said at a news conference. "We believe the NCAA is simply wrong to have made this decision."
The ruling means that as many as 123 men’s basketball wins from 2011 to 2015, including not just the 2013 title but two Final Four appearances (2012, 2013) and three conference tournament championships (two Big East, one American Athletic Conference), will be wiped from the record books,
U of L repeatedly insisted that the NCAA's infractions committee overstepped its bounds during a review of stripping and sex-themed parties, including prostitutes, at a basketball dormitory and imposed penalties without following some of its own guidelines and procedures.
Postel criticized the decision by the NCAA's infractions appeals committee, saying the NCAA "ignored" the university's cooperation in the college athletics governing body's investigation into stripping and sex-themed parties at a basketball dormitory.
He said U of L, in its appeal, noted "significant inconsistencies" with the NCAA's enforcement in similar cases and was optimistic about getting the penalties reduced.
"Quite honestly, we felt good about it," Postel said. "I don’t know what else we could have done.”
But in its 7-page decision, the appeals committee agreed with the infractions panel that U of L athletes knew or should have known they were receiving improper benefits. It noted that U of L officials acknowledged those violations in oral arguments in the case.
"Because this case involved serious and intentional violations, which Louisville agreed were reprehensible and inexcusable ..., direct involvement of an institutional staff member, and a large number of violations, the Committee on Infractions was within its legislative authority to impose the vacation of records penalty," the four-member appeals committee wrote.
The appeals committee, which included members from George Washington University, the University of Texas and Vanderbilt University, similarly defended the financial penalty.
It did, however, raise concerns that the infractions panel did not "sufficiently articulate how it balanced the mitigating factors," including U of L's self-imposed 2015 postseason tournament ban, with other factors. Critics have suggested the NCAA's actions will deter other programs from cooperating in future investigations or imposing their own penalties.
Acting U of L athletics director Vince Tyra said the university will comply and remove the postseason and championship banners, but "they won't remove it from our hearts and minds." He did not give a timeline.
According to NCAA bylaws, decisions of the appeal panel are “final and shall not be subject to further review by any other authority.” U of L attorneys could pursue action in the courts if they feel that the NCAA has been arbitrary or capricious in its rulings or failed to follow is own due process guidelines.
But the courts have been reluctant to get involved in the affairs of voluntary organizations unless the matter represented the public’s interest.
U of L all but foreclosed the possibility of filing a lawsuit in hopes of overturning the NCAA's decision.
Postel said it's "theoretically" possible that the school could take legal action but said no conversations about that have taken place. For his part, Tyra said it would be "difficult, I think, to dip into the piggy bank" and accrue new legal bills.
The appeals decision brings to a close a process that began in August of 2015 when the school first heard of plans by Katina Powell, a self-described Louisville escort, to publish a tell-all book about providing strippers and prostitutes for U of L men’s basketball players and recruits through an arrangement with then-basketball graduate assistant and later director of basketball operations Andre McGee. She described 22 parties in the Louisville men’s basketball dorm for various groups of recruits and players.
The allegations became public on Oct. 2, 2015, the day Indianapolis Business Journal Book Publishing released Powell’s book, Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen. Hiring Chuck Smrt of The Compliance Group, U of L launched an investigation into her charges, working often hand-in-hand with the NCAA.
In June of 2017, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions found McGee guilty of major violations and handed him a 10-year show cause order effectively banning his employment by any NCAA institution. It did not find then-U of L Head Coach Rick Pitino guilty of failure to monitor his program, but found him guilty of failing to monitor McGee, and suspended him for the first five ACC games of this season.
It found a program assistant, Brandon Williams, guilty of failure to cooperate with the NCAA’s investigation. And in addition to a postseason ban and scholarship reductions the university imposed on itself, the NCAA put U of L on four years of probation, handed down further recruiting restrictions and ordered the school to officially disassociate with McGee, plus the vacation of records and return of NCAA Tournament revenue from the affected seasons.
U of L officials said they were surprised and disappointed at the order to vacate records and return NCAA Tournament revenues, and those were the penalties U of L fought. All others, including the probation, the school accepted.
U of L made its final case to a four-person panel of the Infractions Appeals Committee in Atlanta on Dec. 13, 2017.
“The pain this decision has created for our fans and our players were not involved in the events in question is perhaps the most regretful result of this determination," Postel said.
Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.