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Should Rick Pitino’s return to college basketball save Louisville from the NCAA hammer?

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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.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

16 Comments for Should Rick Pitino’s return to college basketball save Louisville from the NCAA hammer?

  1. crazycatfan65
    8:22 pm May 5, 2020 Permalink

    I think a reduction of scholarships from 13 players to 11 or maybe even 10 players for 2-3 years, reduction of official on campus visits for 2 years and days of off campus recruiting for 1 year along with vacate wins for that year should be plenty of punishment for Loserville.

  2. Headhurts
    8:51 pm May 5, 2020 Permalink

    Scholarship reduction does nothing unless you take at least 5 scholly’s, plus UofL imposed their own penalties for Katina, technically the ncaa has’nt done much to UofL thus far.

  3. TonyMontana
    9:09 pm May 5, 2020 Permalink

    “Should the NCAA avoid hammering Louisville, because they fired Pitino? It’s a totally fair and logical conversation.”

    Logical? By that logic any school should cheat as much as they possibly can. If they’re caught all they have to do is fire the coach and then just start cheating again. No… responsibility must not only fall on the coach but the school. Real substantive actions must be levied against the University not only as punishment but as a preventative measure.

    • chardun20
      9:32 pm May 5, 2020 Permalink

      I totally agree TonyMonana, Louisville should get hammered hard. Not because I dislike them but because they deserve it.

    • mashburnfan1
      9:55 am May 6, 2020 Permalink

      We do know our own coach has been caught cheating twice. Not as bad as stuff as U6 but cheating still against the rules. Had wins vacated at both previous institutions. As for U6 while it is sad the kids and staff that had nothing to do with it will face the punishment that is the way it has always been. They should lose schollys which is minimal damage. They should face post season ban for at least 2 years, that will hurt them. I also believe those involved should be punished so the coaches and admin in charge at that time should be banned from NCAA Jobs for a lengthy time to forever depending on involvement. Pitino should not be allowed to coach in NCAA, Self, Wade and any others if found guilty should be gone for some time or forever. Will at least slow down the dirty business and may make some think twice before cheating as the punishment is harsh. Right now there are no real consequences if you get caught so why not do it, been this way for decades folks and ALL do it.

    • CrystalBall
      10:48 am May 6, 2020 Permalink

      mash. Cal has NEVER been caught cheating. Those who cheated were Marcus Camby and
      Derrick Rose. Cal was completely cleared of any wrong doing by the NCAA. Wish people would
      read the whole story. Not just the headlines. Might learn something.

  4. Heavy C
    10:20 pm May 5, 2020 Permalink

    If they’re smart, they’ll bring in a washed up rapper and sleazy broads humping a stripper pole during their midnight madness. That apparently is a full proof Antidote to those pesky NCAA Findings.

    • ClutchCargo
      9:11 am May 6, 2020 Permalink

      They’re not smart, but they will still do that. lol

  5. CrystalBall
    11:09 pm May 5, 2020 Permalink

    Answer to your question. In a word “NO”.

  6. Bigblueswami
    7:13 am May 6, 2020 Permalink

    Legal 1, Cheat 4

  7. 4everUKBlue
    7:46 am May 6, 2020 Permalink

    Hell NO! There is no valid reason they should not be hammered. And to the people who have talked about Bruce Pearl being Cal’s successor when Cal retires 10 yrs from now notice Bruce’s name is prominent among the cheaters. Drew and Ryan are two of the loudest voices among those people, I’d rather lose with integrity than win with the total lack of integrity that any of the coaches listed above would bring to the winningest program in all of college basketball.

    • ukbradstith
      9:17 am May 6, 2020 Permalink

      There is a very valid reason, laid out in this article.

    • 4everUKBlue
      11:49 am May 6, 2020 Permalink

      It may be construed as valid only if you’re a UofLittleBrothel fan and even that’s a stretch. I’m not saying all the other programs mentioned should not be hammered as well but UofL has NO excuse for letting this go on. The Karen Sypher scandal should have been a major red flag.

  8. BlueBanker18
    10:21 am May 6, 2020 Permalink

    To those who say, the school could just cheat, fire the head coach, then cheat again, I think it’s also worth noting that not only did UofL fire Pitino and Jurich, they also fired the president of the university, the whole board, various low and mid level staff members, etc. Anyone that was remotely okay with the cheating is gone. Punishing the new administrative staff and the players who are actually trying to do some good for the university does not make any sense. Hitting them with a hefty fine is the only logically sound option because the money is literally the only thing left over from the cheating. The argument that “they (the new staff and players) knew what they were getting into” doesn’t make any sense either. If I take a position at a company where my predecessor committed illegal acts, should I be punished for those acts? Hell no, I might be watched a little more closely until I prove my integrity, but I’m not going to be punished for something that I didn’t do. I know it’s hard, but when you take the name Louisville out of the argument, you’ll be able to think more clearly about this. Here come the “Yew must nawt be a reeyull Kentucky fayun” comments.

  9. BobbyBlue
    5:28 pm May 6, 2020 Permalink

    Wow, Bluebanker isn’t there a UL site where you might post, and find some people that actually give a shit what happens to UL ?