It’s been a crazy day for Rick Pitino, Tom Jurich, the University, and honestly, all of us here at KSR, so let’s take a minute to survey how the scandal is playing out nationally. ESPN devoted almost three hours of coverage to the developments in Louisville and it’s the top headline on every national sports outlet. Here’s a roundup of headlines, ranging from sympathetic to scathing:
Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy: “Rick Pitino can play victim, but sad end at Louisville is largely his fault”
In his testimony [in the Karen Sypher trial], there was a moment that became a microcosm of how the remainder of his Louisville tenure would unfold: “There was one motive from the day all this started,” Pitino said, “and that was to blackmail me.”
This is who Pitino became in his final eight years as the Cardinals’ head coach, right up until he was placed on unpaid administrative leave: the oblivious victim.
Rick Pitino turned out to be a colossal waste of talent. Forced out by Louisville on Wednesday, Pitino will not be remembered as a coach who made regular appearances in the Final Four.
He will be remembered as the architect of a morally bankrupt program, and as a complete disgrace to his profession.
Dick Vitale: “It breaks your heart”
CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish: “Louisville officials had no choice but to begin removal of Rick Pitino as coach”
And it really doesn’t matter what Pitino did or did not know. Because one of two things, and one of only two things, happened here, and neither is good. Either a Louisville assistant was operating outside of the NCAA rulebook withPitino’s blessing while the school was on probation and still stained by scandal, and Pitino is lying when he says he had no knowledge these things were allegedly happening, which is clearly a fireable offense. Or a Louisville assistant was operating outside of the NCAA rulebook without Pitino’s blessing while the school was on probation and still stained by scandal, which would suggest Pitino has absolutely no control over the people working underneath him, or that he’s done nothing to convince them the days of blatant cheating have to end, which is clearly a fireable offense.
This should be a time for sober reflection and honest self-assessment, but Pitino will only go down that road if there is a book deal in it. He has been selling so long and so well that he knows no other way. He got caught cheating on his wife and angrily proclaimed that recruiting was still going great. His program hired hookers to lure high school students and Pitino sold himself as the victim. Louisville apparently paid six figures for a recruit and he released a statement saying it was “initiated by a few bad actors … our fans and supporters deserve better and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable.”
This is who Pitino is, and how he has always operated. Pitino understood, long before anybody else realized it, that coaching college basketball is not about college and it is only sort of about basketball. It’s a marketing game. Almost every coach has a hustle, an angle, a pitch for players and fans and especially the media. Some coaches see their hustle as a necessary evil. Pitino saw it as his calling.
Pitino lasted through the things he did because he was so good at playing the game, but now the government has decided that playing the game itself is illegal. In the screwed-up world of college sports, paying prostitutes is apparently less egregious than paying student-athletes.