The University of Louisville made public its response to the NCAA Notice of Allegations against the men’s basketball program Wednesday. In the 92-page document, the school argued that coach Rick Pitino should not be charged with a major violation of NCAA rules.
Pitino himself makes the same argument in an accompanying 43-page document submitted by his Kansas City-based lawyer, Scott Tompsett.
In October 2016, the NCAA alleged that Louisville committed four violations. Among them was a charge that Pitino failed to monitor staffer Andre McGee, who paid at least $5,400 over a four-year period for strippers and escorts to dance for and/or have sex with recruits, current players, AAU coaches and others. The NCAA enforcement staff charged that Pitino is “presumed responsible” by NCAA rules for McGee’s conduct, and that the Hall of Fame head coach failed to “frequently spot-check the program to uncover potential or existing compliance problems.”
If the NCAA Committee on Infractions rules that Pitino did commit a major violation – a hearing before the COI is expected sometime this spring or summer – he could be subject to a multigame suspension during the 2017-18 season. In previous seasons, Hall of Fame coaches Jim Boeheim, Larry Brown and Jim Calhoun have been suspended for part of a season.
In its response to the NOA, Louisville said, “The University believes that Coach Pitino fostered a culture of NCAA compliance within the basketball program and exercised appropriate supervisory oversight of McGee. McGee’s furtive conduct was not detectable by reasonable monitoring practices, as McGee purposefully intended to avoid detection.”
The accompanying document entitled an “Initial response from Rick Pitino to the NCAA Enforcement Staff’s Notice of Allegations” asserts Pitino’s lack of NCAA culpability in the scandal.
“The enforcement staff has overreached in this case,” the document said. “Pitino never should have been charged.”
“… (T)he staffs (sic) investigation actually shows that the violations committed by McGee did not result from anything that Pitino either did or did not do,” Tompsett further argued. “Rather, McGee committed the violations in spite of everything that Pitino did as a responsible and rules compliant head coach to both promote an atmosphere of compliance and to monitor his program.
“The enforcement staff has not identified one single red flag that put Pitino on notice of McGee’s illicit activities. The staff also has willfully refused to inform Pitino and his counsel of specifically what the staff believes Pitino should have done differently. That is because there is nothing that Pitino reasonably could have done to either prevent the violations or to uncover the violations.
“The investigative record is replete with testimony of Pitino, his staff, his student-athletes, prospects who visited the institution and residents of the dorm, which shows beyond any doubt that Pitino was a rules compliant coach who monitored his program.”
The NCAA stopped short in its NOA of charging Louisville with a lack of institutional control or a lack of coach control, both major violations.
In the response to the NCAA, Louisville acknowledged the violations committed by McGee – many of which transpired in the basketball dorm on campus – and characterized his actions as “appalling and inexcusable.” Of the 40 alleged instances of interaction between the strippers and escorts and Louisville recruits and players, the school agrees with 37 of them and disputes only three.
However, Louisville stated in its response that it believes the entire case, while clearly major, should be characterized as “mitigated.” That designation could, given prior NCAA precedent, result in lesser penalties.
Louisville already self-imposed a postseason ban on the 2015-16 basketball team, a significant punishment. Among the university’s additional arguments for a mitigated case:
• The individual dollar amounts identified in the transactions with the strippers and dancers were primarily in the two-figure or low three-figure range, which is more in line with secondary violations than major violations.
“While the institution acknowledges that the nature of these violations is appalling, the value of the benefit provided is not a large amount,” the university said.
• McGee’s failure to cooperate with the NCAA investigation should not be held against Louisville, since he was no longer working at the school at the time of the investigation.
• Staffer Brandon Williams, also charged with a failure to cooperate with the investigation, did turn over his cell phone to NCAA investigators while he was on staff at Louisville. It was after he left the school that Williams declined to offer additional information.
• Regarding Pitino’s role, Louisville argues that “no amount of reasonable oversight would have detected McGee’s furtive activities,” and thus “no violation of the head coach legislation occurred.”
Pitino’s personal response via Tompsett cites recent cases involving the North Carolina and Miami football programs, in which staffers or boosters committed violations that did not result in charges against the head coaches of those programs. That document also quotes Pitino as telling each of his new staff hires, “If you knowingly break a rule, you will not be part of this staff the next day.”
Rick Pitino’s redacted response to the NCAA:
Louisville’s redacted NOA response:
Louisville’s redacted response exhibits: