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While Louisville answers notice of allegations, Pitino could also face NCAA penalties at Iona

By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

Overlooked in most of the initial reporting on the University of Louisville’s notice of allegations from the NCAA this week was the potential ramifications it could have for former coach Rick Pitino.

Pitino, of course, was in charge when the alleged violations in the pay-for-play scandal took place in the summer and fall of 2017. He was fired in October of that year, along with athletics director Tom Jurich and assistant coaches Jordan Fair and Kenny Johnson.

Fair was accused of providing between $11,800 and $13,500 to AAU coach Brad Augustine and Johnson allegedy gave Bowen’s father, Bowen Sr., $1,300 as part of the $100,000 scheme. Fair is now an insurance agent in Florida, while Johnson somehow got a job as an assistant coach at LaSalle.

Rick Pitino could face penalties while coaching at Iona because of NCAA allegations directed at Louisville. (AP photo by Petros Giannakouris via Kentucky Today)

After spending 15 months coaching the Greek National Team, Pitino resurfaced in college basketball after a three-season involuntary hiatus when he was hired in March as the head coach at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y.

At the least, the four allegations against UofL, one Level I and three Level II charges, will bring renewed scrutiny on Pitino and his role, if any, in payments arranged for recruit Brian Bowen by Adidas employees and a would-be agent.

At the worst, the Hall of Fame coach, along with Iona, could be hit with major penalties by the NCAA. (Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde first reported the NOA contained allegations against Pitino).

Included among the NCAA’s findings in a Level II violation was one which accused Pitino of failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance. The NCAA enforcement staff deemed Pitino’s involvement a “significant breach of conduct” that compromised the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model.

As part of its discovery, the NCAA alleges that Pitino knew about unsavory recruiting practices taking place at another institution involving former Adidas representative Jim Gatto, who was helping Pitino recruit (Bowen), and did nothing to report it to UofL’s compliance staff.

Under NCAA rules, there are three types of punishment Pitino potentially faces for those alleged allegations — aggressive, standard or mitigated.

The punishment for a Level II mitigation violation could result in a suspension of up to 10 percent of the season; a standard violation could result in a 30 percent suspension and an aggravated violation carries a suspension of up to 50 percent of the season.

Stu Brown, an Atlanta-based attorney who specializes in NCAA compliance cases, indicated to Forde that he thinks Pitino got off lightly.

“Traditionally, if there is a Level One allegation, the head-coach responsibility allegation is of a corresponding level,” Brown said. “It’s interesting that (the Pitino allegation) is Level Two.”

Pitino has fervidly maintained his innocence since the scandal broke and issued a statement Monday responding to the charge after UofL’s announcement of the NOA.

“Today the NCAA released an NOA and alleges a Level II violation against me,” Pitino said. “I firmly disagree with this allegation and will follow the protocols in addressing this allegation through the administrative process. Due to NCAA bylaws on public disclosure of enforcement issues, I will have no further comment on this matter until it is resolved.”

Iona then released its own statement, saying it executed “extensive due diligence” on Pitino prior to his hiring and that it stands behind him as he works through the NCAA process.

The NCAA doesn’t make clear what determined each level of punishment, but the fact that its language includes the phrase “significant breach of conduct” indicates that the punishment could also be serious. In other words, ordering Iona to suspend Pitino for a number of games unless the school appears before the (Committee on Infractions) to show cause why the suspension should not be applied.

Given the long, drawn-out NCAA process, including appeals, it’s unlikely Pitino would face any suspension for the 2020-21 season. A suspension in 2021-22 is more likely. Since the NCAA listed no mitigating factors while noting “aggravating” factors, my guess is that he will eventually be forced to miss 10 to 15 games. But it could easily be more, considering this is Pitino’s second tangle with the NCAA in 3 1/2 years.

Vince Tyra

Pitino was facing a five-game suspension at the start of the 2017-18 season in connection with the stripper/hooker debacle, but was fired before he could start serving it.

As for Louisville, school officials indicated Monday that they will push back hard against the NCAA allegations and will not institute any self-imposed penalties as they did in the strippergate scandal. UofL imposed a postseason ban for 2016, but still suffered further serious sanctions by the NCAA, including vacating its 2013 national championship and 123 victories.

UofL athletic director Vince Tyra says he doesn’t anticipate a postseason ban for the 2020-21 campaign.

“It’s hard for me to give somebody a 100 percent guarantee,” Tyra said. “I’m not sure I’d put my blood on it, but I think it’s highly unlikely that we would miss our ability to play in that tournament next season.”

Under a clause in his contract, current Louisville head coach Chris Mack would receive a one-year extension for every year the Cardinals are banned from postseason competition.

Russ Brown covers University of Louisville sports for Kentucky Today.

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