One week after he defiantly vowed to fight to overturn the sanctions handed down by the NCAA, Louisville coach Rick Pitino reiterated that message in a two-page letter to his program’s booster club.
Pitino insisted that the NCAA penalized Louisville “beyond reason” but expressed hope that “the truth will prevail” in the letter, which was first posted Wednesday night by Kentucky Sports Radio and WHAS-11 and WHAS-840 host Terry Meiners.
The NCAA accused Pitino of failing to sufficiently monitor his program after a staffer he hired paid for strippers and escorts to dance for and have sex with Louisville players and recruits at least 15 times over a period of four years. Calling the case “unprecedented,” the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions suspended Pitino for five ACC games next season and ordered Louisville to vacate as many as 123 wins, including the 2013 national title.
“My players, coaches and employees who have worked with me for years know how I am with rules and total compliance to the NCAA,” Pitino wrote. “I write this to our fans to keep your heads high and believe that the appeals committee will get it right and our values will continue to instill the right things in our student athletes.”
Pitino has long insisted he didn’t know that former staffer Andre McGee was flouting the rules under his nose, but the Sergeant Schultz defense no longer flies with the NCAA. The bigger question is whether he should have known that McGee was paying for strippers and escorts to entertain recruits when they visited campus.
Based on Pitino’s letter, the crux of Louisville’s appeal later this year may be the argument that the head coach had no way of knowing.
Each time Louisville had recruits visit campus, Pitino claims he asked his staff and the prospects what they did and whether they enjoyed themselves. Strippers never came up. Pitino also believes McGee “would have lied to my face to avoid termination” had he asked him directly, an argument bolstered by a story he shared in the letter.
By the time Pitino first learned of the allegations in August 2015, McGee had left Louisville to become an assistant coach at UMKC. Pitino said McGee initially evaded his calls and later lied to him about why he had non-students in the basketball dorm.
“His response was a girl that he was dating brought one of her daughters and her friends and they listened to music with the guys,” Pitino said. I then asked who is this woman you are dating? He said he met her at a convention. I then asked what does she do? His response after months of reflection was absurd. He said she is a party planner.”
Whether that defense will be enough for Louisville to get its penalties reduced is far from a guarantee. After all, Pitino hired McGee, placed the former Louisville guard in the on-campus dorm and gave him authority to monitor recruits when they were visiting campus.
Still, Pitino’s letter hints that’s the argument Louisville will make when it appeals the NCAA sanctions. The Cardinals have to hope it’s persuasive because it’s their last chance to prevent the 2013 national title banner from coming down.
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