Here comes the most interesting, controversial and perilous NCAA infractions case in years. Since the North Carolina academic fiasco, at least.
It comes at Louisville, the two-time basketball sinner. Does the Committee on Infractions end up smashing the Cardinals? Or do they get credit for doing what no other school caught up in the federal corruption investigation has done—namely, cleaning house from top to bottom?
The NCAA delivered its Notice of Allegations to Louisville Monday, and that in and of itself came as a surprise. The Enforcement department had announced that it was putting a hold on its succession of NOA deliveries during the ongoing pandemic, which has shut down campuses nationwide. That decision clearly went by the wayside, which might make the folks at Alabama, Arizona and LSU brace for what’s coming down the pike next.
The contents of the Louisville notice, which were released by the school:
• A Level I allegation that an improper recruiting offer, and subsequent extra benefits to the family of an enrolled student athlete; and a recruiting inducement to a prospective student-athlete’s non-scholastic coach/trainer, were provided by certain individuals, purportedly identified and defined by the NCAA as “representatives of the university’s athletics interests”, none of whom had traditional connections to the University beyond their affiliation with Adidas or professional athlete management entities, as well as by a former assistant coach and a former associate head coach.
• A Level II allegation of recruiting violations by the same two former men’s basketball coaching staff members in providing impermissible transportation and having impermissible contact in the context of recruitment-related activities.
• A Level II allegation that the institution failed to adequately monitor the recruitment of an incoming, high-profile student-athlete.
• A Level II allegation that the former head men’s basketball coach did not satisfy his head coach responsibility when he failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance.
There are no names attached, but the head coach is Hall of Famer Rick Pitino. The assistant coaches are Jordan Fair and Kenny Johnson. The primary player involved is Brian Bowen, who enrolled at Louisville as an 11th-hour, five-star recruit in June 2017 but never played there or at any other college after being at the center of the FBI sting operation. Aspiring agent Christian Dawkins was shopping Bowen to many schools, and Louisville (with the help of Adidas) won out in what was alleged to be a $100,000 deal, according to the Southern District of New York’s indictment.
Louisville landed Bowen in the same month it was hammered by the NCAA for its other scandal, the strippers and escorts who were paid by former staffer Andre McGee to perform for players and recruits in a dorm where they lived on campus. That netted the program a self-imposed postseason ban and the vacating of the 2013 national championship—making Louisville the only school to lose a national basketball title.
Yes, at the very time when the program was going through that tawdry scandal, it was embroiling itself in a new one.
That is repeat violator territory in NCAA parlance. And, in theory, it could be Death Penalty stuff—shutting down the program for year or more, the way it did SMU football in the 1980s.
But the actual Notice of Allegations doesn’t seem like it has the juice to bring the ultimate penalty. Frankly, a single Level One allegation—and only a Level Two aimed at Pitino—is a bit lighter than expected. With aggravating factors, Louisville could still be hammered with up to a five-year postseason ban. If aggravating factors aren't considered, a ban (if applied) could be one or two years at most. As it is, this NOA from Enforcement will butt heads in front of the Committee on Infractions with Louisville’s counter-argument: we got rid of everyone.
New president. New athletic director. New basketball coach. Not only that, but the AD and coach were swept out within days of the Bowen/Adidas scandal blowing up on Sept. 26, 2017.
Compare that response with the other high-profile schools that were implicated by the feds.
Kansas? Hasn’t touched head coach Bill Self or assistant coach Kurtis Townsend, both of which were implicated in the federal investigation.
Arizona? Sean Miller rolls on, despite an array of revelations tied to his program.
LSU? Will Wade’s “strong-ass offer” wiretap hasn’t gotten him fired yet.
Auburn? Bruce Pearl served a three-year show-cause penalty for violations at Tennessee, then had his new program caught up in the scandal because then-assistant Chuck Person was on the take from financial advisers in return for steering them Auburn players after college. Not only has Pearl not been touched, the school won’t even acknowledge that it has received a Notice of Allegations, much less made it public.
“Everyone else stuck their nose in the air at the NCAA,” said one college basketball insider. “I know everyone wants a pound of flesh when a program cheats, but Louisville paid a pound of flesh.”
So, give Louisville credit for being proactive. But remember this: the school chose not to part with its most valuable pound of flesh the first time. The school kept Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich through the strippers-and-hookers scandal—and before that it stood by Pitino through an extramarital scandal that resulted in a bizarre blackmail scheme.
It was only when the second NCAA scandal (and third Pitino-related scandal) dropped on the university’s doorstep that changes were made.
Maybe the complete makeover will be enough to mitigate punishment. Or maybe the committee will look at Louisville, see a systemic problem and drop the hammer. It will be fascinating to watch unfold.
In an era when the NCAA membership says it wants harsh penalties—and an era when men’s basketball was revealed to be breaking rules with breathtaking impunity—this would be the program to make an example out of. Or would it smack of classic NCAA misappropriation of justice to nail a bunch of people who had nothing to do with the alleged violations?
Whatever the outcome, it will be controversial. People will find fault with the ruling. There is no clear, clean outcome to the latest Louisville scandal, for anyone.