Candid Coaches: Will the NCAA take titles away from UNC or Louisville?

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Reid Forgrave spent much of July on the road in cities across the country, covering the live recruiting periods. While there, and in the weeks since, they've surveyed coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest schools in Division I. In exchange for complete anonymity, coaches give unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over the next two weeks, we'll be posting the results on several questions posed to more than 100 coaches.

Ongoing NCAA investigations at North Carolina and Louisville have captured the attention of college basketball fans, much of its media, and certainly the coaches. But in the six years since UNC's case was borne from local reporting, and more than nearly two years since Louisville's escort-related case went public, coaches -- aside from Rick Pitino and Roy Williams -- haven't spoken much about it.

That makes sense. Coaches don't see it their place to publicly comment on other active cases. But given a cloak of anonymity, the opinions came flying out -- and they are diverse. We asked coaches not if they thought it was right for the NCAA to vacate championship titles from Louisville and North Carolina, but if they expected the NCAA to do so. Those are two very different questions. We believe most coaches would've said it was not right -- as they would not want to lose a banner if found in the same situation.

Asking coaches to predict the NCAA's behavior is another conversation altogether. Many injected their opinions, nonetheless, on whether the NCAA should in fact do so. Here's how they voted, and what they said.

Do you believe the NCAA will vacate Louisville's 2013 title?

Yes

58 percent

No 

42 percent

Do you believe the NCAA will vacate at least one of North Carolina's titles from 2005 and 2009?

Yes

21 percent

No

79 percent

williams-pitino.jpg
  Mike Meredith / CBS Sports

Quotes that stood out

On Louisville and/or North Carolina losing titles ...

  • "The Louisville one, it's easier because they've already announced that they are taking it [editor's note: the NCAA has not explicitly announced this] so they have to win on appeal, and I don't think they will. What they did, what happened was just too egregious. You read the testimony of it, what [former Louisville director of basketball operations Andre] McGee did. It's actually amazing he hasn't been arrested. Make an underage kid hook up with a prostitute? I just don't see how they are going to back down from that."
  • "I don't see how Louisville keeps that title. They played ineligible players in the tournament."
  • "If they're going to vacate anyone's title they'll do Louisville as opposed to North Carolina. It's like the black hat. Between Rick Pitino and Roy Williams, Rick Pitino is the guy who'd operate in the gray. He's the bad guy. And Roy Williams is the good ol' boy.

    You look at Carolina's deal, what's it been going on for now, 10 years? It's almost like the Syracuse thing. With the Carolina situation, we don't know every class our guys take, but we know the classes they need to take if they need an 'A.' There's a certain class that every school has. For Roy Williams to say that he had no idea what was going on in that class, it doesn't make sense.

    On the flip side with Louisville, we know what our guys are doing on and off campus. You going to tell me you have a stripper party, people going in and out of that building, and nobody knows about it? With the Louisville situation you can probably substantiate (sanctions) a little more, where with Carolina supposedly there's no paper trail. At Carolina, academic fraud is the worst thing that can happen. Academic fraud and ethics."

  • "Trust me, we know everything that goes on our with our program. And so did Rick Pitino."
  • "I'm heavily influenced by the people there [at Louisville] and who is running the program, all the way up to the AD and the president. Yes on Louisville, no on North Carolina."
  • "UNC I believe is more likely because the academic stuff is more touchy-feely and a little more sensitive than other issues in college basketball. For those reasons, the academic nature of their sanctions and all that, I think they'll get hit."
  • "They vacated Memphis, so they're going to vacate Louisville. If they don't they're going to look like they got no f------ power. What are they, just a figurehead to slap coaches on the wrist? Ruin some coaches lives but not others? And not do anything to the institution? How can they not [vacate Louisville]? Do I think they should? No. In the end I don't think Louisville's got a good argument on appeal to why they shouldn't vacate that. I don't really see what leg they'd be standing on. I think they'll vacate it. North Carolina, there's so much attention to it that the only thing the NCAA could do is they could wave the white flag on academics, say it's not our jurisdiction. And they're Carolina, and I always believe there's a pecking order to these things."

On Louisville and/or North Carolina NOT losing titles ... 

  • "No, they will not vacate Louisville's title, as they are scared of Pitino."
  • "I don't expect Louisville to lose a title. And this might be a smaller guy on a smaller team looking up, but I think that is such a huge measure to take, that, you know, I think that those guys -- not that they get let off easy -- but that's such a big, huge deal, that the NCAA won't go that far. They might hit them with something so harsh, but I don't think it will be removing a title. Same goes with Carolina. After the report came out, skimming through it and seeing the highlights, it barely names Roy Williams and names the women's program more than the men's program. I think they're going to get a lightened a penalty."
  • "I think North Carolina should vacate. Total joke what happened. There's no way basketball wasn't involved. But I don't think the NCAA has the balls to do it."
  • "That's a real tough question. I think the NCAA has lost so much power that more and more people are starting to fight what they are capable of doing, if that makes sense. I believe that one of the two will be vacated: I believe it will be Louisville over North Carolina. I think the UNC situation is different. UNC is an academic issue. Louisville is basically a paid performance deal, but not necessarily for players. I think people look at that and are going to say, with Louisville, that there was an outside source that came in and provided services. At the end of the day, I think that's why they'll lose their championship. UNC is going to be more drawn out because it's an an academic issue, not a performance issue."
  • "If you're going to do one, why are you not doing the other one? I mean come on. It's funny, when the thing happened with Louisville and one of the guys on our staff, support staff, said there's nothing going to happen to him [Pitino]. I'm like, 'What?' I just find it entertaining. We had a kid transfer from there, had him on a visit, and I remember this because it was quite a few years ago. Heard about how Pitino was micromanaging, busting in their rooms to check if their rooms are clean, what's in their fridge. I thought, If he's that micromanaging, how does he not know what's going on here?"
  • "No, I feel that if those teams lost in the finals or semifinals that, if warranted (and I'm not sure any of them warrant it), they would have to vacate those seasons. Since they won it all, I just don't think the NCAA will. If Memphis with Derrick Rose or Michigan with the Fab 5 win the whole thing, would the NCAA have vacated those titles?"
  • "It's a tough one. You've got one that involves academic fraud and one that involves sexual activity for pay. I would lean toward North Carolina's being more vacated than Louisville's, but I don't think either one will."
  • "No and no -- but yes, they should. At the same time I think vacating wins is a joke. The game was played. It was won or lost. You can't erase that from memory. If you're talking about vacating wins, just drop the hammer and punish the wrongdoers. The kids had to win the game, put the ball in basket, get stops defensively – the game was played. I always think the vacating wins is a joke.

    What I have a hard time with is when you have coaches who act like they knew nothing was going on. You know what? Obviously there are circumstances that you don't know as a coach. How are you supposed to know if a couple guys on your team go out to eat, there's a booster there and they pay for the meal? They don't tell anybody. They just say thank you very much. How would a coach know that? Those are the things as a staff you don't know about. But when it comes to recruiting and stuff going on during recruiting visits, head coaches know where the kids are going after hours, who they're hanging out with after a meal, a social event. Head coaches know who the kids' hosts are.

    You mean to tell me like in Louisville's situation, and Pitino's a major micromanager, not one person, whether it's the recruit himself, one of his players, the kids' dad, whoever else was with him on the visit, doesn't the next day at breakfast say, 'Coach, we had the greatest time ever!' 'Oh really? What did you do?' Maybe not tell all, but he gives a hint. If it happened once or twice, OK, maybe coach does't know. If it happens that many times, somebody leaks something. Especially a guy who is a micromanager and seems to worry about image stuff a lot. You have to be turning a complete blind eye if you don't know."

  • "I don't think either one of them will lose their titles because the NCAA is not tough enough to do that. When it comes to taking care of the big boys, they're going to slap Morehead State with a 10-year probation. My AD thinks Louisville will lose their title, though."
  • "They got that thing wrong at Penn State. They went out of their jurisdiction. They will not be so quick to jump on this [with UNC] because you've got other students, other things, I don't think they could do that."
  • "In regard to North Carolina, it sure seems like they are afraid to punish them and pull the trigger. How long has that case been going? I know this, the other UNC (University of Northern Colorado) fired a coach, self-imposed violations, and the NCAA came in and wrapped up their case with them in a matter of 8-10 months. Sure seems like they don't treat the two UNC's the same? I wonder why?"

More opinions ...

  • "The UNC deal is in limbo, so I will reserve judgement. The Louisville saga, on the other hand, is a complete embarrassment to our profession. How does Rick Pitino still have a job? This is a complete joke and makes me ashamed to be a part of this profession. There are many other guys (in many other sports) that have been fired for far less than what went on in Rick Pitino's program. A few years back, the NCAA came out publicly and made it known that anything that went on inside a program was the responsibility of the head coach, no questions asked. So all of this happened, and Pitino gets a five-game suspension? Total joke -- sorry, but it is. And there's a lot of coaches out there who would completely agree with this."
  • "If they truly wanted to do something significant they should hold the head coach at each program responsible and force them to resign. I thought the NCAA made it so that the head coach was ultimately the one who was accountable for actions within their program so where has all that talk gone? If the same thing happened under the watch a less-profile program that head coach would be let go. End of story. Double standard for legends, I guess."
  • "Do I believe they will or do I believe they should? That's two different questions. I don't think they should. They won the game on the court. Both teams won national championships. But will they do it? I'll be honest with you, it looks like it's heading that way. Both teams should put up a big fight about that. I've never been in agreement with taking away wins, national titles. They're all said and done. Penalties should be in the future."
  • "If it was Cleveland State, Sacramento State, even Arizona State...How's Rick Pitino still head coach? I just have a set ethics, that's all."
  • "They should vacate the titles. But my deal is, Memphis, they vacated all that stuff, but they were still in national championship game. The kids have already enjoyed the fruits of the their labors. What does it do in retrospect? I've been at the have-nots my whole career. I know we do things the right way. We don't cheat. And when a person has all the resources and does cheat -- all I can say about this nonsense of coaches don't know what going on in their program, that's nonsense.

    I know what's going on in my program. I know what classes my kids are taking. If I have all these non-students making all these A's -- I can't believe he didn't know about it, and I can't believe Rick didn't know about it.

    Back when Tark was around, he'd joke the UNLV broke a rule the NCAA would punish Cleveland State. Louisville's a blueblood. UNC's blueblood. The NCAA is disproportional in punishment. The crime outweighs the punishment if you're a lesser school. I think they both should be vacated, but I don't know the NCAA has the balls to do it."

Takeaways

So many coaches had so many things to say about these two schools, the NCAA's governing enterprise, and what makes sense in terms of punishment. 

A lot of coaches admitted they did not have the right answers for punishment, but insisted that removing a championship banner is not acceptable. Given the standing of UNC and Louisville in college athletics, there's a lot of doubt about widespread punishment. Those sentiments were shared by head coaches at big programs and assistants at small schools alike. There also was plenty of discussion about how former players on those teams would not lose the experience or knowledge of having won a title, but if it were to happen, how is it fair to them if they weren't involved in the cheating? In essence, punishing a coach, a staff or program makes sense, but ripping a title away from players who did things right is petty. 

A few coaches offered a solution that is practical and gives the programs a legitimate punishment while not handicapping the players: multiyear NCAA Tournament bans, with players having immediate eligibility elsewhere. 

There is a distinct difference between the cases, and coaches largely were more skeptical of Pitino than Williams. Now, Williams has dissenters, but many in the profession respect him and take him to be an honest man. With Pitino, it's not so much that coaches were calling him dishonest, but rather expressing a lot of cynicism regarding Pitino's complete denial of any knowledge of what happened with the stripper parties.

As expressed by the coaches, many discussed the reality of recruiting visits. When they happen, assistants, video coordinators, directors of basketball operations, everyone on the staff is in the know one way or the other with what happens. Pitino's reputation as a dogged micromanager (which is part of what makes him a Hall of Fame coach) is what's leading so many to not believe him. And even for the coaches who said they do believe Pitino, many predict the NCAA will hit Louisville because the tangible evidence and witness accounts of what happened has a direct connection to players on the 2013 championship team. 

The big question ultimately becomes whether those stripper parties had real influence over Louisville's players. Louisville has argued to the NCAA that they did not. The NCAA's Committee on Infractions disagrees and the case is under appeal. Louisville is expecting a resolution to this case before 2017 ends.

North Carolina, in the third stage of a Notice of Allegations, met with the NCAA on Aug. 16-17. A review by the COI is expected to arrive in the fall. An appeal process, if it happens, likely would extend the case into spring 2018. 

One last note: A handful of the coaches were so fired up to discuss this topic because they know the Louisville and North Carolina verdicts will be big-time statements about the NCAA and college basketball. Whatever does or does not happen to Pitino and Williams, the Cardinals and the Tar Heels, will carve out a narrative and groove a conversation about how top-10 programs are treated. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his eighth season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics,... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories