LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The NCAA didn’t feel Louisville went far enough with its self-imposed sanctions following a sex scandal investigation, so the governing body Thursday handed down a few more.
An outraged Rick Pitino believes the NCAA went too far.
After completing its investigation of Katina Powell’s allegations that she and other escorts were hired to have sex parties and strip for Louisville recruits and players – which the NCAA described as “repugnant” — it benched the Cardinals men’s basketball coach for five games and imposed several other penalties.
Pitino’s suspension is less than Jim Boeheim and Larry Brown recently received for NCAA violations.
Still, Louisville said it is appealing the NCAA’s decision, and even that wasn’t enough for Pitino. He fired a few salvos at the NCAA after reviewing the report.
“Not only was this unjust and over the top in its severity,” the coach said at a news conference, “but I’ve lost a lot of faith in the NCAA.”
Pitino, who has repeatedly denied any knowledge of former assistant Andre McGee’s interactions with Powell, wasn’t done.
“We are devastated by the news, all of us are,” the Hall of Fame coach added. “But moving forward we believe we will win the appeal because it’s right and it’s just, and what went on was unjust and inconceivable.”
The NCAA suspended Pitino for five Atlantic Coast Conference games, while Boeheim and Brown each served nine-game suspensions for their indiscretions.
Louisville had self-imposed several sanctions, including a postseason ban in 2015-16.
The NCAA accepted those, and tacked on more. The other penalties Louisville received include vacating wins in which ineligible players participated, placing the basketball program on four years’ probation and issuing a 10-year show-cause order for McGee, Louisville’s former basketball operations director.
The NCAA has not vacated the Cardinals’ 2013 national championship — yet. And that might be one reason Pitino and Louisville officials are adamant about appealing the decision.
The NCAA said the school must determine which games ineligible players participated in, and that might include the Cardinals title game. Players deemed ineligible would be those involved in the sex parties, which are considered impermissible benefits.
Compliance consultant Chuck Smrt, hired by Louisville when the allegations surfaced, estimated that 108 regular-season games and approximately 15 NCAA wins could be impacted — including the Cardinals’ third national championship.
“The additional penalties imposed by the committee were the ones that surprised us,” Smrt said during the news conference that included Pitino, athletic director Tom Jurich and Louisville interim President Greg Postel.
Postel issued a statement saying the school believes the additional “severe” penalties are excessive and plans to appeal. The university, which self-imposed several sanctions, has 45 days to respond.
“The entire U of L community is saddened by what took place. It never should have happened, and that is why the school acted to severely penalize itself in 2016,” Postel said. “Today, however, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions went beyond what we consider to be fair and reasonable.
“We intend to appeal all aspects of the penalties.”
The long-awaited NCAA announcement reiterated its original view that Pitino should have known about McGee’s activities with Powell, who alleged in a 2015 book that staffer McGee paid her $10,000 for 22 shows at the Cardinals’ dormitory from 2010-14, a period that includes their NCAA title run.
The NCAA’s release included statements by the panel on its decision, saying: “The types of activities that occurred in this case were repugnant and threaten the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model, regardless.”
Chief hearing officer Carol Cartwright also dismissed the idea that the amount of money involved — estimated by the NCAA to be at least $5,400 — was relatively small.
“In this case, we felt that any of the acts, on their own, would be Level 1 and be inappropriate,” Cartwright said in a conference call.
Other penalties prescribed by the panel also include men’s basketball scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions; a fine of $5,000, plus the university must return money received through conference revenue sharing for its appearances in the 2012 to 2015 NCAA men’s basketball championships.
The panel had harsh comments about McGee’s actions in its decision.
“The former operations director, the individual entrusted to keep order at Minardi Hall, created an environment that has no place on a college campus and was directly at odds with college athletics and higher education,” the panel said.
Pitino has maintained during the investigation he had no knowledge of the activities described in Powell’s book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen.” The NCAA had said it in an earlier response to the school that Pitino didn’t seem to want to know what his assistant was doing.
Postel repeated his support of Pitino on Thursday.
“This ruling is also unfair to Coach Pitino,” Postel said, “who we believe could not have known about the illicit activities.”
The NCAA, once again, disagreed.
“He essentially placed a peer of the student-athletes in a position of authority over them and visiting prospects and assumed that all would behave appropriately in an environment that was, for all practical purposes, a basketball dormitory,” the report stated.
“Further, he delegated responsibility for monitoring the former operations director to his assistant coaches, who later stated they were unaware it was their job.”
There are references throughout the report to similar cases involving a lack of appropriate coaching oversight at other big-name schools — Miami, Syracuse and Indiana among them. Boeheim, the veteran Syracuse coach, SMU’s then-coach Brown, were each suspended for failing to keep track of how their players were receiving academic help.
McGee did not cooperate with the NCAA investigation, a fact Postel emphasized in his statement.
“The person responsible for these activities, Andre McGee, long ago left the university, and he has yet to cooperate with investigating officials. We are disappointed that he was not cooperative,” Postel said. “In contrast, UofL did cooperate. ... We have been open and transparent throughout this process.”