The NCAA Committee on Infractions, in response to a scandal featuring prostitutes, ruled earlier this year that Louisville coach and suspended the Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer for the first five ACC games of this upcoming season. That happened on June 15. Barely a month later, according to federal documents, a Louisville assistant was caught on a wiretap discussing a pay-for-play scheme for a Class of 2019 prospect -- this after the program had already secured a commitment (from Class of 2017 wing Brian Bowen) that happened only because, according to federal documents, Adidas conspired to pay the prospect's family $100,000 in exchange for his enrollment at the Adidas-sponsored school.
This was all made public Tuesday. So it should come as no surprise that Rick Pitino wasWednesday and isn't expected to coach the Cardinals ever again. Simply put, this had to be done. Simply put, he had to be done.
A school, basically any school, can only endure so much scandal on the watch of one man -- even a man as consistently successful and accomplished as Pitino. He is, for starters, the lone coach in history to lead two different programs to national titles. The first came at Kentucky in 1996, the second at Louisville in 2013. So he's genuinely one of college basketball's all-time greats. And yet his legacy will forever be complicated. He'll be remembered for off-the-court scandals as much as on-the-court triumphs.
They're all part of Pitino's story now.
And this FBI investigation was the final blow to a career that many believe should've ended the moment Louisville was forced to acknowledge that, yes, one of Pitino's former assistants spent years providing strippers and prostitutes to players and prospects, some of whom helped the Cardinals win the 2013 national championship, which is why that title is on the verge of being vacated.
Pitino survived that mess, obviously.
But he was never going to survive this mess.
And it really doesn't matter what Pitino did or did not know. Because one of two things, and one of only two things, happened here, and neither is good. Either a Louisville assistant was operating outside of the NCAA rulebook with Pitino's blessing while the school was on probation and still stained by scandal, and Pitino is lying when he says he had no knowledge these things were allegedly happening, which is clearly a fireable offense. Or a Louisville assistant was operating outside of the NCAA rulebook without Pitino's blessing while the school was on probation and still stained by scandal, which would suggest Pitino has absolutely no control over the people working underneath him, or that he's done nothing to convince them the days of blatant cheating have to end, which is clearly a fireable offense.
In other words, either Pitino's assistant was doing what his boss wanted or he wasn't listening to his boss. You pick which. Doesn't matter to me. But as long as we can agree this FBI investigation proves one of those two things, what it also proves is that Pitino could not continue as Louisville's coach. He's either been the brains behind a program that could not stop cheating even when he must've known any additional scandal would lead to his forced resignation or termination, or he's a man incapable of hiring a staff that will follow his public pleas to do things the so-called right way and restore credibility to one of the sport's blue bloods.
Both scenarios are bad.
Louisville was punished by the NCAA in June.
But Louisville never stopped breaking the NCAA's rules.
And so a 16-year run featuring 13 NCAA Tournament appearances and three trips to the Final Four is coming to an end just a few days before the official start of practice for a season in which the Cardinals were expected to compete for another national championship. It's sad but understandable, disappointing but reasonable. Because the truth is that Pitino and his staff gave Louisville no choice. They were fortunate to survive one scandal. They never had a chance to survive another. Because if you can't stop cheating when you've been labeled a cheater and are facing the reality of a banner being removed, odds are, you never will.
Cardinal Authority's Jody Demling, who has been covering the program exclusively for 10 years, knows what went on behind-the-scenes leading up to Rick Pitino being placed on leave. He's on-campus right now with the latest impact on recruiting, the next coach and all of the fallout. If you're a Louisville fan, you won't want to miss it. Visit CardinalAuthority.com now for the very latest.