John Clay

Strippers! Louisville’s claim of NCAA victim status rings hollow

University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino speaks during a news conference Thursday, June 15, 2017, in Louisville, Ky. concerning the penalties imposed by the NCAA after a former men's basketball staffer is alleged to have hired strippers to entertain players and recruits.
University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino speaks during a news conference Thursday, June 15, 2017, in Louisville, Ky. concerning the penalties imposed by the NCAA after a former men's basketball staffer is alleged to have hired strippers to entertain players and recruits. Associated Press

Strippers!

There were strippers and sex acts and teenagers in a college dormitory supplied with the help of a staff member to basketball recruits over multiple years in which somehow the head coach had no idea what was going on inside his own program.

Given such undisputed evidence, you might think a totally embarrassed University of Louisville would throw itself on the mercy of the NCAA court and gladly accept whatever punishment it received.

You’d be wrong, of course.

Thursday morning, the NCAA officially announced its penalties, including a four-year probation, a five-game ACC suspension for Coach Rick Pitino, the loss of four scholarships over a four-year period, additional recruiting restrictions and — last, but certainly not least — the distinct possibility the school will have to vacate its 2013 national championship.

In a news conference at the school’s administration building, U of L officials lined up as disciples of defiance.

“Excessive,” said Chuck Smrt, the former NCAA enforcement director hired by Louisville to help craft its response to the infractions committee.

“Inconceivable,” said Pitino.

Along with interim president Greg Postel and athletic director Tom Jurich, Louisville officials again claimed to be contrite about the salacious violations, but again insisted they were victims as well.

In a defense given by Jurich — and later echoed by Pitino — there was nothing on social media about the stripper parties, so how was U of L supposed to know what was going on?

Set aside the spin. The crux of the matter is this: Parents trusted their sons to a basketball program for a college visit that included something far beyond the norms of “entertainment.”

Asked what he would now say to recruits’ parents, Pitino shot back that he just completed “the best recruiting class we’ve had in 16 years.”

If it could, the infractions committee might add another game to the suspension for that answer alone.

And here’s one question left unanswered: Where did the money to finance these parties come from?

In fact, despite U of L’s objections, you could make a case the school skated. One less recruit for four years is no big deal. The money is not insignificant — the school has its own money problems, after all — but not insurmountable. The five-game suspension hurts Pitino’s ego more than the team. The coach is paid $5 million a year to be accountable for all parts of the program, not just the ones that bring him glory.

In terms of what really matters, Louisville should be thankful the NCAA accepted its self-imposed 2016 postseason ban without tacking on an additional year(s). The Cards are expected to be a national title contender in 2017-18. They can still Dance.

In terms of reputation, the “vacation” part of the punishment probably administered the deepest cut. I’m not a fan of the NCAA’s toothless “vacating” of wins or seasons. No matter what the record book might say, memories can’t be erased. But no Division I NCAA basketball program has had to vacate a national championship. Louisville could well be the first.

Smrt confirmed that among the 108 regular-season and 15 NCAA wins in which Louisville may have used an ineligible player is the 2013 title game victory over Michigan. The school has 45 days to submit a list of players it believes were ineligible. It will argue that since the violations involved extra benefits, a player’s ineligible status is a finite number of games, not an entire season. It will be interesting to see if the NCAA agrees. If not, the Cards could be stripped of their title. (Pun intended.)

Meanwhile, Louisville vows to appeal. Pitino may not have known what was going on inside his basketball program, but he knows how to put on a full-court press. After all, he’s the real victim here. Right?

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