The University of Louisville on Friday released an updated NCAA Notice of Allegations stemming from its involvement in the 2017 federal investigation of corruption in college basketball, and it contains more problems for the school and its men’s program.
The case, which has been diverted to the NCAA’s Independent Accountability Review Process, now contains three new allegations. All of them are Level II, which is considered major. The most severe violations are Level I. The amended Notice of Allegations (NOA) now contains one Level I charge and six Level II.
And the NOA now names head coach Chris Mack as having committed a Level II violation for a lack of head-coach responsibility. Mack’s contract with Louisville contains language stating that he can be fired for cause if found to have committed a “serious violation” (which would be Level I or II).
The new charges arise from the audiotape made by Mack of former assistant coach Dino Gaudio threatening to expose NCAA violations if he is not paid until September 2022. Gaudio was informed in March that his contract was not being renewed, and his extortion attempt of Mack ensued from that meeting.
Gaudio pleaded guilty to a federal extortion charge in August and was sentenced to a one-year probation and a fine. The university also suspended Mack for the first six games of the 2021–22 season for his handling of the Gaudio situation. The school said that disciplinary action was not intended as damage control in terms of lessening additional potential NCAA sanctions, but it could be construed as helpful to Louisville’s argument for leniency.
However, that argument is now even more difficult with another layer of scandal added to the case. The amended NOA, which is now in the hands of the IARP’s Complex Case Unit, adds charges against Louisville for the following:
- Allowing graduate assistants, managers and non-coaching staff members to participate in impermissible on-court activities with current players.
- Producing and showing, playing, or providing personalized recruiting videos and recruiting aids to recruits containing their names, pictures and/or likenesses. In addition, staff members created personalized pamphlets and itineraries for recruits to be used on both official and unofficial visits.
It’s a borderline call whether those should be classified as Level II or III violations, but the CCU opted for Level II because they “were not isolated or limited, [and] provided or were intended to provide more than a minimal competitive advantage.”
Those violations led to the umbrella charge against Mack, who was cited because he “did not demonstrate that he promoted an atmosphere for compliance due to his personal involvement in the violations and/or the impermissible conduct being done at his direction.”
The context in which these violations occurred is the largest complication for Louisville. The school has been in the throes of NCAA investigation for years due to violations allegedly committed in the recruitment of five-star prospect Brian Bowen. That blew up very shortly after the previous scandal: a Louisville staffer paying escorts and strippers to perform sex acts for recruits and players.
In other words, the succession of violations has barely paused—and certainly hasn’t stopped—for the better part of a decade. Among the many men’s basketball programs caught up in the Southern District of New York investigation four years ago, none brings the baggage that Louisville has. And now it has added to it, risking enhanced penalties as a repeat violator.
At the far end of the NCAA penalty matrix, Louisville could be looking at a four-year postseason ban that would decimate the program. However, the NCAA hasn’t thrown that heavy a book at any program in a long time, and the current state of limbo over bylaws related to compensating players may further complicate an attempt to do so now.
In addition, Louisville has at least attempted to clean up its myriad messes. It administered its own postseason ban during the 2015–16 season. It fired Hall of Fame basketball coach Rick Pitino and entrenched athletic director Tom Jurich in '17, shortly after the SDNY scandal came to light. And it handed Mack a significant suspension that will impact the start of this season.
Louisville may not want to dismiss Mack, but the new NOA does hand it the means to do so inexpensively. The suspension indicates administrative displeasure with Mack’s handling of the Gaudio affair, and there was disappointment among the fan base with missing the NCAA tournament in 2020–21. But Mack has at least maintained the program’s competitiveness following Pitino, when things could have fallen apart. (And, of course, still may, depending on what sanctions may come.)
Louisville’s release announcing the updated NOA said that the case is expected to “continue through spring 2022.” Sources told Sports Illustrated that the same could be true for most (if not all) of the several pending SDNY cases, due to a reluctance to announce season-altering penalties during the season, which starts in early November. In other words, Louisville and most others working through the IARP’s meandering process could have something of a Stay Out of Jail Free card for the '21–22 season.
But the bills will come due eventually. And Louisville’s already lengthy tab just became that much more expensive.