One of the biggest potential scandals to hit a major college athletics program is unfolding in Louisville and Rick Pitino doesn’t know what to do.
He can’t deny past recruits and players were hooking up with well-funded strippers in an athletic dormitory because, well, it’s probably true. He can’t deny that one of his former graduate assistant coaches, Andre McGee — whom Pitino recruited, coached, developed, started, entrusted and clearly was close enough to that he subsequently employed him for four years — apparently was playing the rule of recruiter/Huggy Bear/pimp daddy. Because there is mounting evidence to support that.
So instead, Pitino is trying to defend his integrity. That in itself is a slippery slope, given his past marital indiscretions and admissions that he paid a woman to have an abortion, only to later become the subject of a very public extortion attempt.
“I hope those (allegations) are not true,” Pitino said. “I have a very difficult time forgiving those people if any of those (allegations) are true and I’m a very forgiving person.”
Comforting. Perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror, Rick.
The stripper scandal that has engulfed Louisville — which began three weeks ago with the publication of a tell-all book and was further advanced Tuesday when five former players and recruits told ESPN they attended parties and, in some cases, had sex with the dancers, funded by McGee — may bring down one of the most successful coaches in the history of college basketball.
Let me amend that: It should bring him down. Because if Louisville keeps Pitino after all this, it will reaffirm all that matters is money.
There are only two possibilities: 1. Pitino knew of and/or orchestrated McGee’s actions; 2. He was blindsided as much as the rest of us, which is equally as big of an indictment. Probably because he didn’t want to know what his foot soldier was doing, even as McGee rose to become his director of basketball operations.
This is the best case/plausible deniability scenario: Pitino was blind to more than 20 alleged high-profile incidents involving high-profile recruits in a dorm that was built to be occupied mostly by scholarship athletes so that university coaches could be aware what their players were doing. And this happened undetected by him for four years. Really?
I asked one college basketball coach whether it was possible Pitino didn’t know what was going on. The coach initially balked at answering, then said it might be possible but quickly added: “There’s some stuff he might not know. But if he didn’t know, I’m sure everybody on his staff knew. Think about that: All of his assistants and where they are now (leading other programs).”
Louisville men’s basketball is a monster. According to the Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics website, Louisville’s revenue for the one-year period ending June 2014 exceeded $40 million ($40,572,485, to be exact). That far exceeded other iconic programs: Kentucky ($23,655,649), Duke ($27,000,243), North Carolina ($20,905,642), Syracuse ($29,766,537) and Kansas ($18.253,973). (Local comparison: Georgia basketball revenue was $8,050,969; Georgia Tech $6,013,750.)
The revenue factor figures to weigh heavily in Louisville’s decision here. But it’s worth noting that when Louisville president James Ramsey released a statement following the publication of the self-described escort Katina Powell’s book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,” he referenced only his school’s athletic director (Tom Jurich) and not his basketball coach. “Tom Jurich has served as athletic director of an exemplary program at U of L. I fully support Tom as we work to identify the facts in this situation,” he said
Jurich also re-hired Bobby Petrino. That doesn’t scream exemplary leadership. But I digress.
There’s some irony here. Pitino cleaned up a mess at Kentucky, went to three Final Fours and won a national championship. But he shouldn’t be allowed to fix this because it took place under his watch and potentially under his direction.
There are so many unseemly aspects to this story, not the least of which is Powell employing her own daughters to strip and perform sexual favors for recruits. But I believe Powell’s account of what happened when she asked McGee if Pitino was aware of what was going on.
“He’s Rick. He knows about everything,” McGee said, according to her.
Coaches usually do. And even when they don’t, they’re culpable.
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