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NCAA lowers the boom on UofL basketball program; vacating 2013 national championship a possibility

By Russ Brown
KyForward correspondent

LOUISVILLE — If University of Louisville fans want to get one last look at the Cardinals’ 2013 NCAA championship and the 2012 Final Four banners that are hanging in the KFC Yum! Center, maybe a tour of the facility this summer would be in order.

Because the banners might not be there by the time the 2017-18 season gets underway.

That is the worst-case scenario for UofL, but one that now seems, if not probable, at least very possible after the NCAA infractions committee issued sanctions in the sex-and-strippers-for-recruits scandal that are the harshest ever handed down to a Division I men’s basketball program.

Rick Pitino called the NCAA penalties “over-the-top.” UofL interim president Greg Postel called them “excessive,” and athletics director Tom Jurich said he was blindsided by their severity (UofL Athletics Photo)

Simply put, the NCAA hammered UofL. It was the school’s and Louisville fans’ worst nightmare come true and stunned school officials and basketball coach Rick Pitino.

Pitino called the penalties “over-the-top.” UofL interim president Greg Postel called them “excessive,” and athletics director Tom Jurich said he was blindsided by their severity.

Among a number of sanctions announced by the NCAA Thursday was a five-game suspension for Pitino at the start of the Atlantic Coast Conference season. But by far the most serious was that the school must vacate the records from the 2010-14 seasons in games in which any ineligible student-athletes participated.

The student-athletes’ names were redacted from the report and weren’t revealed by UofL or the NCAA, but Chuck Smrt, a consultant and President of The Compliance Group who was hired to guide Louisville through the investigation process, said a review of those games indicated that 108 regular season victories and 15 NCAA Tournament wins would be affected.

As part of vacating records, the NCAA demands the elimination of championship banners and trophies.

Read the NCAA infractions

The university had self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2015-16 season and reduced the number of scholarships last season from 13 to 11, among other recruiting limitations. School officials felt that would be sufficient to satisfy the NCAA, but it obviously wasn’t and the organization added significant penalties of its own.

During a news conference Thursday afternoon following release of the sanctions, Postel said the school will appeal the penalties.

“From the start, UofL has accepted full responsibility for activities that took place, which we have characterized as inexcusable,” Postel said. “We have been fully cooperative with the NCAA in all stages of the process. . .We anticipated the possibility that there would be additional penalties. However, the results we received today outlined a set of penalties that we consider excessive and beyond what would be seen in a case such as this. There has been a heavy toll on our community, our fans and our players who played no part in the activities which took place.”

Pitino ripped the NCAA decision and insisted again, as he has many times, that there was no red flag he could have seen and that his players, assistant coaches and security people told him they had no knowledge of the parties.

“We are devastated,” Pitino said. “For 35-some-odd years I’ve had a lot of faith in the NCAA and have reacted that way accordingly in a believe in their rules. But I feel like everybody here, that not only is there a unjust, over-the-top, severe penalty, but personally I’ve lost a lot of faith in the NCAA with what they just did.

“The NCAA got it wrong. We did not deserve what they gave us and that’s the bottom line. They made a very large mistake. I’m going to put all my faith and belief in the appeals committee that they will do the right thing for the players, the university and everyone else. We sat down and made some very tough decisions a year ago in imposing those penalties and it did severely hurt our program. All of us feel extreme remorse and regret about what went on in that dormitory. But this is over-the-top. It’s to the point that it’s not even conceivable or believable what I just read. So we have to put all our trust and faith in the appeal because we presented a very strong case. We believe we will win the appeal because it’s right and it’s just.”

UofL officials had hoped that Thursday’s announcement by the NCAA would finally put the subject to rest, but now it will drag on for at least another three months. Smrt said the university has 15 days to notify the NCAA that it intends to appeal, then 30 days to file a response. After another 45 days of what Smrt called “going back and forth with information”, an appeals hearing would be scheduled.

“The penalties exceeded our expectations,” Smrt said. “This was a significant case, but we think the severity of this penalty exceeds the severity of this case. This was bad behavior, shouldn’t have happened, and the institution has been very contrite about that.”

The NCAA began its investigation of the UofL program in 2015, following publication of “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,” by Katina Powell. Powell alleged that at the request of former basketball director of operations Andre McGee she arranged for women to strip and provde sex for UofL players and recruits from 2010-through-2014.

In February of 2016, UofL president Dr. James Ramsey announced that UofL was taking itself out of the ACC and NCAA Tournments, along with other actions, as self-imposed penalties for admitted NCAA violations.

Pitino’s suspension stipulates that he may not be present in the arena where the games are played and have no contact with the players or members of his coaching staff. He also may not participate in any acitivities including, but not limited to, team travel, practice, video study and team meetings.

The 18-game 2017-18 ACC schedule has not been announced, but typically begins in late December or early January.

Aside from Pitino’s suspension and the order to vacate an unspecified number of wins for a four-year period, here are the other penalties imposed by the NCAA:

*Public reprimand and censure for the university.

*Four years of probation from June 15, 2017, through June 14, 2021. During the probation period, men’s basketball prospects on unofficial visits may not stay overnight in any campus dorms or school-owned property.

*A 10-year show-cause period for the former operations director (McGee) from June 15, 2017, through June 14, 2027. During that period, any NCAA member school employing the former coach must restrict him from holding any athletically related duties and from having any contact with prospects and their families.

*A reduction in men’s basketball scholarships by two during the 2016-17 year (self-imposed by the university). Additionally, the university must reduce men’s basketball scholarships by four over the probation period. The university may take the reductions during any year of that period.

*A prohibition of men’s basketball coaching travel during the April 2016 recruiting period, which resulted in a reduction of men’s basketball recruiting opportunities by 30 (self-imposed by the university).

*A reduction of recruiting travel during the July 2016 recruiting period by six days (self-imposed by the university).

*A reduction in the number of men’s basketball official visits to a total of 10 during the 2015-16 year (self-imposed). Additionally, the university will have no more than a total of 16 visits during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 years.

*A $5,000 fine (self-imposed by the university). The university must also return to the NCAA the money received through conference revenue sharing for its appearances in the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships.

Future revenue distributions that are scheduled to be provided to the university from those tournaments also must be withheld by the conference and forfeited to the NCAA.

*A postseason ban for the men’s basketball team for the 2015-16 season (self-imposed by the university).

“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Jurich said. “I didn’t see this coming. I felt we did everything above and beyond when we found out about this incident. My greatest disappointment is with the organization itself because we followed their guidelines to a T, even exceeded them. We were overly aggressive in penalizing ourselves and wanted to make sure they knew that we took this very seriously and were being very responsible.”

Pitino bristled at a question asking what exactly he was taking responsibility for, saying curtly, “I’m not answering that question.”

He went on to add, however, that he takes responsibility for the program and talked about having had 31 of his assistant coaches go on to become head coaches in college and professional basketball and great leaders.

“And one person did the wrong thing, and I don’t have enough time to talk to you about the 31 guys and how great they are,” Pitino said.

Pitino also reiterated that he had difficulty understanding how nothing about the parties surfaced on social media, saying “that’s almost impossible.”

The news conference ended with Pitino giving a strong, unyielding defense of himself and his program.

“We are embarrassed about what went on and we’re extremely contrite about what went on, but one person does not determine the worth of what we’re all about as a program,” he said. “Because we do it the right way, we do the right things.

“It can tear you apart inside and out because you know what you stand for and what you believe in. So what do you do? Do you say, let me pack it in, do something else in life? Leaders lead. I plan on staying here winning multiple championships, not just one. I plan on going to multiple Final Fours, not just one, and that’s what leaders do.”

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