The University of Louisville hit men’s basketball coach Chris Mack hard Friday, suspending him for 20 days of the 2021–22 season, a span that will include six games. That’s a pretty steep price to pay for being blackmailed.
About an hour after announcing Mack’s suspension, his former assistant, Dino Gaudio, was sentenced to one year of probation and a $10,000 fine for attempting to extort Mack. When Mack told Gaudio in March that his contract wasn’t being renewed, Gaudio threatened to go public with NCAA violations the program had committed. Mack recorded the conversation and turned it over to the Louisville administration, which spawned yet another criminal case involving the Cardinals and yet another men’s basketball NCAA infractions case. The saga, as they say, is ongoing.
The school’s stated reason for the disciplinary action is that Mack “failed to follow university guidelines, policies, and procedures in handling the matter. The sanctions imposed upon Coach Mack are unrelated to the extortion attempt itself and the ongoing NCAA process.” There is no explanation in the release of what guidelines, policies and procedures were not followed, or why. Still, it seems reasonable to conclude that this personnel action is in no small part a response to the school’s precarious NCAA compliance standing.
Mack is, to a degree, collateral damage as Louisville tries to find the most expedient path through the place no school wants to go: Repeat Violator Territory. The program’s most recent alleged NCAA rules violations, which Gaudio voiced to Mack in a heated meeting in Mack’s office, are relatively minor. They center on using graduate assistants in practice, and producing in-house videos for prospective recruits.
Viewed in a vacuum, that doesn’t get anyone a six-game suspension—certainly not a coach with a record previously unsullied by major NCAA violations. Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams just received a two-game suspension from the NCAA for a variety of Level II violations, among them the use of noncoaching staff members in coaching roles. What happened on Mack’s watch at Louisville appears to be similar, and wouldn’t seem to be three times more egregious than the A&M case.
Heck, Rick Pitino was given a five-game suspension from the NCAA for the strippers-in-the-basketball-dorm debacle that started Louisville’s cycle of scandal. (Pitino never served the suspension because he was fired before it could go into effect, due to the next Cardinals scandal.) For Mack to be docked six games by his own school, before this case even reaches the point of an NCAA ruling, is significant.
But none of this can be viewed in a vacuum, which is why the sins of their forefathers are coming home to roost on Mack and athletic director Vince Tyra. They weren’t around for the major infractions cases—the dorm debauchery or the arrangement via Adidas to pay Brian Bowen’s family six figures. But they have to deal with the slow-motion fallout as the wheels of NCAA justice grind on, and this latest case is a complicating factor.
Mack becomes the second Louisville men’s basketball coach to be blackmailed yet still come out of it worse for wear, following Pitino’s extortion experience at the hands of Karen Sypher, the woman he had sex with in an Italian restaurant. She went to prison; Pitino’s reputation took a hit. Gaudio on Friday avoided prison, being sentenced to one year of probation; Mack will be docked more than $200,000 in salary, in addition to the suspension.
Committing any violations while already on probation and awaiting further sanctions is, of course, extremely unwise. Louisville is pushing the envelope, for sure.
But give the Cardinals this much: Every time they screw up (which is often), they do take action—and they do it before being forced to take action. This isn’t LSU’s enabling Will Wade.
The school self-imposed a postseason ban in 2016, taking a surefire men’s NCAA tournament team out of March Madness with a month left to play in the regular season, to the shock and dismay of its fans.
The school fired Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich after the Bowen revelations surfaced in 2017, while many other programs implicated in the Southern District of New York federal investigation chose to do nothing but prepare their defenses and dare the NCAA to come get them.
And now the school has suspended Mack. At many high-major athletic programs, a threat such as Gaudio’s to expose rule-breaking would have been met with a payoff that swept everything under the rug. Not only did Louisville not opt for that, it went to the cops and turned this into a public matter.
“As I have said since the beginning of my tenure, we have high expectations for all of our staff members and coaches and we hold people accountable for their actions,” Tyra said in the school’s release announcing Mack’s suspension. “While we have made great strides over the last four years in changing the culture in our department of athletics, we cannot afford to have any setbacks, no matter how big or small, in our pursuits. I am confident that Coach Mack now understands the impact of his actions. We all have confidence in him moving forward.”
The question that has lingered over this matter: Why did Mack record the conversation with someone he has known for 30 years? So I asked. Mack’s answer: Gaudio stormed out of Mack’s office after being informed that his contract was not being renewed, then returned.
“Sensing an explosive situation was imminent, I made the decision to protect myself” by recording the subsequent discussion, Mack told me. “I wanted to make sure there was no confusion about this hostile situation.” Mack declined to answer any other questions on the matter.
The next steps at Louisville will be interesting. We don’t know where the Bowen case stands with the NCAA’s dawdling Independent Accountability Resolution Process, much less any charges that may result from the Infamous Gaudio Audio. Closure of this endless scandal cycle does not appear to be anywhere on the horizon.
But on yet another bizarre day in Louisville, one coach was sentenced for extortion, and the guy he tried to blackmail was suspended. Chris Mack’s punishment is significant, and the sins of his forefathers had to play a part in that.