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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The NCAA death penalty, the much-discussed but 30-years-dormant nuclear option of college sports, is about to make a comeback.
Louisville basketball, one of the most successful in history on the court and for decades the most lucrative hoops program in America, prepare for your demise.
The program should be shut down, if the bombshell allegations announcement of allegations Tuesday prove to be true. If that doesn’t happen, the NCAA is useless.
Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino should be gone, a gilded career ending in disgrace. It seems highly plausible that he will take athletic director Tom Jurich with him, a man who lifted an entire department, and now oversees its ruination.
They were heroes here, for many years. And now they have been party to multiple scandals and a stain so deep on the basketball program that it may never fully go away. SMU football knows the feeling.
Louisville already was ordered by the NCAA in the spring to vacate its 2013 national title because of stripper parties for recruits and players funded by a former program staffer. That was embarrassment enough. Now there is this, very strong evidence that the school is involved in high-dollar buying of players.
Some 28 years ago, Pitino took over a scandal-ridden Kentucky program and promised to clean it up and win the right way. He referenced the Sports Illustrated cover on the scandal in Lexington, a cover that read “Kentucky’s Shame.” He then achieved his greatest success there, winning a 1996 national title with one of the most powerful teams ever assembled.
Then Pitino followed it up with a national title at Louisville. He was the only coach to win championships at two different schools, cementing his status as an all-time great. And now it almost certainly will end in a fall of Shakespearian dimension.
It will end with Louisville’s shame.
Jurich, the man who stood by his basketball coach through glory and tawdriness, will be part of the shame. He elevated the football program, but showed enough desperation to bring back the tainted Bobby Petrino. He got Louisville into the Atlantic Coast Conference, a destination beyond the school’s wildest dreams, but now the league must be regretting the baggage it brought.
Pitino issued a statement Tuesday evening through his lawyer, Steve Pence, that said: “These allegations come as a complete shock to me. If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorneys Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville. Our fans and supporters deserve better and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable.”
Pitino was shocked by the last scandal, too. Playing the shocked head coach undermined by the rogue assistant isn’t going to fly a second time, like it did with Andre McGee and the strippers. That worked once – and many people were surprised it worked then. Now? The accountability needs to go to the top.
Pitino and Jurich both need to go. And the basketballs need to be put away for a year or more.
Shut the thing down.
There’s no other hometown college basketball team in the city of Louisville, arguably the most passionate metro area in America when it comes to that sport. It could happen. To devastating financial and civic effect.
The Cardinals program is not named in the announcement of charges released by the United States Attorney’s Office on Tuesday morning. None of its employees are charged. For now, those charges are reserved for assistant coaches at Arizona, USC, Oklahoma State and Auburn. There also are charges against an array of third parties who for years have made the greasy wheels of college basketball turn: an Adidas executive, financial advisers and agents.
But the U.S. Attorney’s release includes several pages that unmistakably paint a picture of Louisville as heavily involved in the scheme. As Joon H. Kim, the acting United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a news conference Tuesday, “Google is an amazing thing.” In other words, you can use it to learn that the school described by the U.S. Attorney’s office as being a public research university in Kentucky with approximately 22,640 students is clearly Louisville. And Louisville, according to the feds, was the beneficiary of a $100,000 agreement to bring a star recruit into the program.
Connect the dots on that and the star player is Brian Bowen, a five-star prospect whose recruitment was unusual, meandering and much-delayed before he suddenly committed to Louisville on June 3.
The financial agreement to deliver Bowen to Louisville was reached “in or around May of 2017,” according to the release. It states: “At the request of at least one coach from [Louisville] … the defendants, and others agreed to funnel $100,000 [payable in four installments] from [Adidas] to the family of [Bowen].”
Furthermore, the feds allege that in a July 27 meeting in a Las Vegas hotel, a Louisville assistant was part of a discussion to pay a player from the class of 2019 to commit to the Cardinals. Part of the discussion was to note that the involved school “was already on probation with the NCAA” and that “they would have to be particularly careful with how they passed money” to the player.
There is video surveillance of the meeting, according to the release. They have an audio recording. The lawmen are not guessing here; they have hard evidence.
At least five other schools are caught up in this mess. Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and USC all had coaches arrested. Like Louisville, another school is unnamed – but connect the dots and it is Miami, an Adidas-outfitted school which has risen to basketball prominence in recent years.
The ripples promise to spread from there. As FBI assistant director Bill Sweeney said ominously Tuesday, “We have your playbook. Our investigation is ongoing. We are conducting additional interviews as we speak.”
Every basketball program in America is running scared right now, because this is how business gets done. A lot of people knew it, but nobody was able to lay it out with proof like the feds did on Tuesday. It’s a dirty sport, and today we know how dirty.
The damage to it will be immense and long-lasting. The NCAA will have a hard fight to make anyone believe in its bread-winner sport again. Which is why the first order of business needs to be blasting Louisville basketball into non-existence.
Shut it down.