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Sea of scandals finally engulfed Pitino, forced Louisville administration into action

By Mark Maynard
Kentucky Today

The ground has been sinking from Rick Pitino’s feet for some time.

We all knew it. We saw it. We didn’t want to believe it.

But now we do. It all caved in on him Wednesday, buried in a scandal this time of which it appears there’s no escape. Interim President Gregory Postel put him on unpaid administrative leave and that’s just a precursor to the university ending its ties with Pitino. He’s out of chances with the Cardinals.

He’s lucky it lasted this long. Pitino’s coaching pedigree was enough to keep the ball bouncing even when faced with scandal after scandal, even with the embarrassment the program brought to the university in the form of a Pitino sex scandal and parties with strippers for prospective recruits.

Scandal has been part of Pitino’s life at Louisville (UofL Athletics Photo)

But there were no turning heads this time. No looking the other way and winking. Nope, they put down the hammer and they should have. The sinking sand beneath Pitino’s feet shifted too much. It was a freefall put in motion by the federal government’s investigation into the seedy side of college basketball. It appears Louisville was a player in that mess.

The latest scandal comes from a recruit who apparently wasn’t even on Louisville’s radar. He was lured by an Adidas executive to put on a Louisville uniform for his brief college stay. By doing so, the NCAA’s Cardinal sin was committed — paying for a recruit. That recruit, Brian Bowen, is alleged to have accepted an offer of $100,000 that was to be received in four installments.

The deal was done and the five-star player was – Surprise! – tweeting that he was on the way to Louisville on June 3.

“But they had to come in unofficially, pay for their hotels, pay for their meals,” said Pitino at the time. “So we spent zero dollars recruiting a five-star athlete who I loved when I saw him play. In my 40-some-odd years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve been.”

He may have pressed his luck on this one.

But scandal has been part of Pitino’s life at Louisville.

He admitted having six with an equipment manager’s wife in 2009 and later paid $3,000 for an abortion from that affair that happened in 2003. When the woman began extorting him for money, the news had to come out and it did in every sordid detail. The sand beneath is feet was already starting to move.

Then there were the parties with potential recruits that included escorts and strippers that happened under Pitino’s watch. He denies ever having any knowledge of what happened and Andre McGee, the former Louisville director of operations, took the fall and was banned from college sports for 10 years. Pitino was given a five-game suspension during ACC play.

The NCAA ordered Louisville to vacate victories from 2012-13, including the 2013 national championship title. They were also put on probation. But Pitino continued to deny, deny, deny even as that shifting sand was knocking him off balance.

And then came Tuesday’s report from the federal government and that was a knockout punch that would not even the late, great Muhammad Ali could have survived.

Pitino was down for the count and knocked off his feet. This time it looks like for good.

He came to Kentucky when shame was gripping that program and revived its heartbeat. He will be leaving Louisville’s program in a mess of shame where somebody else will be charged to find a pulse. And that’s a real shame for this Hall of Fame coach with his 770 victories, two national championships and seven Final Four appearances.

Those numbers don’t mean much now and his legacy is likely scarred forever, too.

And what of Louisville’s basketball program? What happens if the NCAA delivers more sanctions – or even the dreaded death penalty. It hasn’t happened in 30 years, since the SMU Mustangs were running wild, but it has to at least be a possibility. The Cardinals certainly qualify. More NCAA sanctions, at least, seem like a given.

Hopefully, the death penalty action doesn’t happen. Louisville doesn’t deserve the fallout the economic fallout that would surely follow it and it wouldn’t be good for the rest of Kentucky either.

The hard-working people of Louisville deserve better than what Pitino’s scandalous times have given them. Shutting down the program for a year (or more) would be devastating in so many ways.

The victories were great and we all love those but there’s more to it. Your program needs to be on solid ground and it hasn’t been under Pitino’s watch.

On Wednesday, the bottom fell out and they have landed in a pit.

Mark Maynard can be reached at mark.maynard@kentuckytoday.com

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