Watching the live stream Thursday as the University of Louisville reacted to the NCAA notice of allegations that alleges U of L committed four level-one rules infractions relating to the school’s “escorts in the basketball dorm” scandal, one thing struck me as funny.
Louisville officials were adamant that Cardinals men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino knew nothing about the fact that, from 2010-2014, an aide in the U of L basketball program was hiring paid escorts to “service” high school basketball players while on recruiting visits to the university.
Yet the same Louisville officials then professed outrage that the NCAA was charging Pitino with “a failure to monitor” the activities of Andre McGee, the former Cardinals guard and Pitino aide alleged to have been the central figure in the scandal.
Tom Jurich, the Louisville athletics director, heatedly vowed that U of L would challenge that “failure to monitor” finding when the university goes before the NCAA Committee on Infractions.
OK, guys, one or the other. If Pitino didn’t know that the basketball dorm that bears the name of his late brother-in-law had been turned into a brothel for recruits U of L was wooing, is that not by definition a failure to successfully monitor what is going on within the head coach’s program?
The honorable thing for Louisville to do would be to concede that Pitino’s monitoring of McGee was deficient, knowing that in doing so, it is likely the coach would then be mandated to serve some kind of suspension during the 2017-18 season.
Pitino should endure some tangible consequence for having presided over the program that has produced one of the tawdriest scandals in the sleazy history of big-time college sports.
The Louisville imbroglio, of course, broke into public view in October 2015, when self-described escort queen Katina Powell produced a tell-all book describing how she took money from McGee to provide adult entertainment for recruits and players (primarily) in Billy Minardi Hall, the U of L basketball dorm.
McGee has not spoken publicly since the scandal broke and did not talk to the NCAA.
What seems apparent from the four major infractions the NCAA alleges against U of L is that the college sports governing body buys — or cannot disprove — Louisville’s theory of the case with McGee as sole perpetrator.
Two of the four alleged infractions point at McGee for having given U of L “an extensive recruiting advantage” by providing at least $5,400 “in cash, adult entertainment and sex acts to at least 17 men’s basketball prospective and/or current student athletes.” The third centers on Pitino’s alleged failure to successfully monitor McGee.
The fourth is directed at Brandon Williams, a former aide in the Louisville men’s basketball program, for failing to provide his telephone records to the NCAA after they were requested. Pitino said Thursday that Williams’ tenure with U of L basketball did not overlap with McGee. So why did Williams choose not to turn over his phone records?
What makes pinning the scandal on McGee as a “lone wolf” problematic can be found in Chapter 8 of Powell’s book “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen.”
McGee left U of L in April 2014 to become an assistant coach at Missouri-Kansas City. However, in July of 2014, Powell says that McGee contacted her to hire women to have sex both with then-high school guard Antonio Blakeney and an adult who was with him on a trip to Louisville.
At the time, U of L was locked in a fierce recruiting battle for Blakeney (who ultimately chose LSU). The guard was in the city of Louisville in late July 2014 to play in a summer hoops tournament.
In Powell’s book, she says she went to the U of L basketball dorm, where a man she didn’t know gave her $200 in $20 bills as a down payment on the $500 fee she was charging for “entertaining” Blakeney. She describes the man as “a light-skinned guy” who “shook my hand and walked away almost as if he didn’t want me to get a good look at him.”
If McGee were acting alone, who was it that showed up at the Billy Minardi Hall and provided those $20 bills to Powell?