The final game of the college basketball season was played almost two full months ago now (what is your favorite memory of the first half of the St. John’s-Creighton game on March 12th?). But even without an NCAA Tournament it feels like the news has continued to roll in.
We’ve had a handful of coaches hired and fired. A bunch of players enter the NBA draft. Transfer news. And on Monday, we got the latest from the never-ending (what are we, in Year 3?) FBI/college basketball scandal.
Louisville has officially received its “Notice of Allegations.”
By now the news is 24 hours old, so you’re probably familiar with the details. In essence, Louisville was accused of doing a lot of bad stuff, specifically in regards to the recruitment of former five-star forward Brian Bowen. The allegations ultimately shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise since, well, they came out in a court of law, under oath from Brian Bowen’s father. Unless Bowen Sr. is willing to perjure himself to bury the Louisville basketball program (something I’m sure Pitino has claimed at some point in the last year) this is a pretty open and shut case. The NCAA didn’t exactly need Nancy Drew and Ace Ventura working on this case to figure out the particulars.
Of course with the news now official that Louisville has its Notice of Allegations, the question becomes “What’s next for the school?” Again, in terms of the bigger picture facts at this point, they’re pretty indisputable. The previous Cardinals coaching staff was willing to – in conjunction with Adidas – pay Bowen a lot of money for him to play at Louisville. What makes this a million times worse though, is that those rules were broken while Louisville was already on probation for a separate set of rules violations. That scandal was the Katina Powell/stripper scandal for those who can’t keep their Louisville scandals in order.
So yeah, committing one set of violations while already on probation for another is bad. Very bad.
Still, what makes this Louisville case especially fascinating though isn’t the violations themselves, but instead what happened next. To date, Louisville is still the only school involved in the FBI scandal that actually fired their head coach (let alone their AD) since this whole thing broke three years ago. Now granted, it was in fact Louisville’s second major scandal in a short amount of time, but doesn’t change the fact that the school did take action. That is completely unlike every school involved, who decided to stick by its coach. Bill Self is still at Kansas. Sean Miller is still at Arizona. Bruce Pearl at Auburn, Will Wade at LSU, on and on and on.
That’s got to count for something right?
Well in the eyes of many people it should. Which has led to an interesting debate since the Notice of Allegations first got to Louisville on Monday. That conversation: Should the NCAA avoid hammering Louisville, because of the fact that – again, to their credit – they fired Pitino and Tom Jurich? Why punish players and a coaching staff that weren’t at the school when it happened?
It’s a totally fair and logical conversation.
Really though, I think there is a much more fascinating conversation that not enough people are having: Is it possible that Rick Pitino’s return to college basketball this off-season is the NCAA’s ultimate “Get out of Jail” free card? In other words, could the NCAA go lighter on Louisville (since they did right) and harsher on Pitino because again, he was in charge of the program for not one, but two major scandals?
I talked about on my podcast shortly after Pitino was hired at Iona (you can listen around the 24-minute mark below) but it really is worth considering. If only because again, Louisville is so much different than the other schools involved in this scandal.
After all, the NCAA basically has no choice but to throw the book at other programs involved in the FBI probe right? At Kansas, Bill Self was caught texting a representative of Adidas to essentially arrange a payment for a recruit to go to their school (the school denies that’s how it happened, but if you read the texts, there really is no other way to perceive it). Yet, the school still stuck by Self. So how can you not punish both the school and Self for egregiously breaking NCAA rules? Will Wade was caught on wiretap discussing a “huge ass offer” for a recruit. And LSU has stuck by him. How can that school not be punished?
But Louisville? Not only did they fire their coach, but that coach is now back in college basketball. Which makes it easier from the NCAA’s perspective to really hammer him.
Beyond that let’s never forget that the NCAA has actually made it easier on themselves to take such a step. Following the FBI probe they enacted new rules, including one which is called the “Head Coach Responsibility” rule. I’ll spare you the boring details, but basically the rule essentially says that a head coach can no longer use the excuse that “he didn’t know” when one of his assistants gets caught breaking the rules. Well, when you read it like that, you might as well call it “The Rick Pitino rule” since he has claimed – not once, but twice – that his assistants acted without his knowledge in breaking NCAA rules. Per that “Head Coach Responsibility” rule, a coach can be suspended for up to a year.
I’m not saying Pitino will get a year. But if there was ever a time to first try out that rule, this would be it, right?
Now to be clear, this doesn’t mean that Louisville should – or will – get away with no punishment. After all, Ohio State fired Jim Tressel after “TattooGate” and they still got a postseason ban under Urban Meyer. Indiana still got punished after firing Kelvin Sampson when he made all those illegal phone calls. It also doesn’t mean that even if Pitino gets in major trouble, it will happen this year. With the way the process works with the NCAA, we won’t get a resolution one way or the other for probably at least another year or so. So expect Rick Pitino to be coaching Iona next season. The question though is how much longer after?
If the NCAA wants to do what’s right, they will still punish Louisville, because they did break major rules after all.
But they will really go after Rick Pitino, the man who broke those rules and got Louisville in this mess in the first place.