Rick Pitino is urging Louisville to make one last-gasp bid to preserve his greatest achievement at the school.
The former Louisville coach called for the university to seek a legal injunction to overturn the NCAA’s decision to remove the Cardinals’ 2013 national championship banner.
“I hope the university will not give up its fight and follows suit by taking this injustice to the courts and filing an injunction for that banner not to come down,” Pitino said Wednesday afternoon at a news conference in New York. “The NCAA cannot rewrite history by taking a banner down. Our players won those games by outplaying outstanding opponents and to say I’m proud would also be an understatement.”
Pitino called his news conference the day after an NCAA appeals panel’s announced it was upholding the Committee on Infraction’s June ruling that Louisville must vacate 123 victories, including its 2012 Final Four appearance and 2013 national title. It’s the first time in Division I men’s basketball history that a championship has been vacated.
Louisville’s punishment stemmed from an investigation that began in August 2015 when escort Katina Powell released a tell-all book containing explosive allegations about the Cardinals basketball program. The NCAA’s investigation subsequently corroborated that former Louisville basketball staffer Andre McGee paid Powell to send strippers and escorts to dance for or have sex with Cardinals players and recruits at parties typically held in the university’s on-campus basketball dorm.
At his Wednesday news conference, Pitino said that he takes full responsibility for hiring McGee but reiterated that he knew nothing about the parties McGee organized. Pitino also argued those parties did not provide a competitive advantage to Louisville even though their purpose was to entice top prospects to join the Cardinals program.
“Did a few [players] partake in parties they didn’t organize? Yes they did,” Pitino said. “But that had nothing to do with an extra benefit, that had nothing to do with helping their eligibility or performance in winning that championship. My heart is broken and shattered for them, our fans and our great university.”
Louisville supported Pitino’s claim that McGee acted on his own as a rogue assistant throughout much of the university’s battle with the NCAA. Only after Louisville also became ensnared in the FBI investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball did the university finally part ways with Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.
Pitino continued to insist Wednesday that he was unaware of the alleged scheme to funnel $100,000 from Adidas to prized recruit Brian Bown in return for his commitment to Louisville. Pitino has said he only learned about the bribe allegedly given to Bowen’s family after the FBI revealed it last September as part of its investigation.
Whether Pitino knew how his assistants were operating or not, Louisville feels it had just cause to fire him. He either was the mastermind behind schemes that violated NCAA rules or he was clueless as to what was going on in his own program.
The sheer audacity and stupidity of the stripper and escort scheme makes Pitino’s claims of ignorance more credible in that case. There are too many smarter methods of enticing recruits for a coach as shrewd and experienced as Pitino to resort to something so sloppy.
“I feel awful for what has happened,” Pitino said Wednesday. “I have run a clean program all my life. I can understand sitting in your seat and saying look what happened back-to-back in a very short span of time and I would agree with you. It looks bad. But I’ve coached 41 years, and for 35 as a head basketball coach, nothing has come up.”
At the end of Pitino’s news conference, he was asked if he had engaged in any discussions about potentially coaching again. He said he had not but admitted that he misses it.
“I miss every minute of player development, every minute of scouting and game planning to beat an opponent, every minute of every timeout,” he said. “But what the NCAA did, this committee did, hurts. And it will take time to get over that hurt. I do really think it’s unjust, but again I fully take ownership for the people I hire.”
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