Why the NCAA’s ruling on Louisville is bad news for Rick Pitino … and Hugh Freeze
Once again, we're reminded, ignorance is no excuse
Rick Pitino has insisted forever that he knew absolutely nothing about Andre McGee bringing strippers and prostitutes to Louisville's campus for players and prospects.
And you know what?
I believe him.
I 100 percent believe him -- if only because the alternative, i.e., that he did know, makes no sense whatsoever. I'm not calling Pitino an angel. But what I am doing is telling you that I simply do not think any college coach would knowingly allow a staff member to bring prostitutes and strippers on campus for players and prospects. It's too stupid -- to risk your job by having a staffer commit Level I violations of this sort on campus and, in the process, create dozens of witnesses. So I don't believe Pitino knew a thing. And, for what it's worth, the majority of college coaches I've spoken with -- a group that includes both Pitino's friends and rivals -- agree. Most do not think he had any knowledge of what was happening inside Billy Minardi Hall.
That said, it doesn't really matter to the NCAA.
That's what we were reminded of again on this Thursday.
Timeline: Louisville's sex scandal
The days of screaming, "My assistant went rogue! I knew nothing!" are over. It didn't work for SMU's Larry Brown. It didn't work for Syracuse's Jim Boeheim. And, though we won't know for certain until an appeal is heard, it doesn't appear it's going to work for Louisville's Rick Pitino either. What he did or did not know doesn't matter, the NCAA basically stated Thursday. These violations happened on Pitino's watch. That means he failed to properly monitor his program. And the punishment will require Pitino to miss the Cardinals' first five ACC games in the 2017-18 season.
Brown was suspended for nine games in 2015-16.
Boeheim was, too.
So Pitino's punishment is lighter -- but the overall damage could be greater in the sense that, according to Louisville consultant Chuck Smrt, the school will vacate its 2013 national title unless it wins on appeal. In other words, right now, Pitino is one of only 14 coaches in history to win multiple national championships. But he could formally drop from that list in the coming months. Barring a surprise, Louisville's banner is coming down.
All of which is bad news for Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze.
Freeze's program has also endured a lengthy NCAA investigation that's uncovered Level I violations -- and his defense, to the extent that he has one, is similar to Pitino's. Freeze has acknowledged violations within his program but mostly blamed them on a staffer and claimed ignorance. But what the Louisville ruling shows, once again, is that the NCAA is unlikely to let Freeze escape unscathed even if it can't tie him to anything serious. Doesn't matter. Did these things happen on your watch? Then take your suspension, sir.
Bottom line, Pitino got on Thursday what was always coming to him.
Which doesn't mean I don't understand his frustration.
It must be maddening to be punished, and lose a championship, over something you were neither involved with nor even knew about -- especially when it's unclear if the impermissible benefits (in the form of dances and sex acts) actually created a competitive advantage. But the alternative to this reality would be head coaches forever making assistants take the fall alone whenever the you-know-what hits the you-know-what. So the NCAA adjusted the rules and made it clear to head coaches everywhere that they are responsible for their staffers always.
This is a reminder of that.
So if you also run a Division I program of any kind, take note. And if you don't know what's going on, you better. Or, at least, you better not get caught. Because your excuses, even when they're believable, are irrelevant in this era of NCAA compliance. There's a punishment for the crime you must pay. And it no longer matters whether you committed -- or even knew about -- said crime.
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