LAST FRIDAY, Louisville announced it was banning its men's basketball team from the 2016 ACC and NCAA tournaments. The move comes amid ongoing school, NCAA and criminal investigations into charges made by former escort Katina Powell, who alleged in her book, Breaking Cardinal Rules, that she brought prostitutes (including her daughters) to a campus dorm to entertain recruits during their official visits to Louisville from 2010 to '14. Powell alleges that the parties were arranged by Andre McGee, Pitino's former player who served as the Cardinals' director of basketball operations. (In October, McGee called the allegations "false.")
Pitino discussed the situation with SI on Sunday. (For more, go to SI.com/pitinoQ&A.)
SI: Were you shocked by the decision?
RP: I was shocked because, while it was always something that was hovering, I've been gearing our team up for the NCAA tournament. The worst part was when I had to face the players.
February 15, 2016
SI: Do you disagree with it?
RP: I don't disagree with anything that [athletic director] Tom Jurich does. I called him Friday morning and said, "Do we want to take some time and think about it?" He said, "I know how down you are about this, but we've got to do it."
SI: You've said that you do not believe postseason bans are fair. Why?
RP: The system is broken. Now, if these players were responsible for this, then they don't deserve to play in the tournament. My opinion is the school should be fined $10 million. The coach should have to take a hit in his salary. The kids should not be penalized.
SI: Wouldn't it be more fair to the current players to put the postseason ban in place for 2017?
RP: Tom has to go by the rules. This is what the NCAA wants every university to do. They don't want you to take the penalty down the road.
SI: Do you know the information that was found that led to this decision?
RP: No. I don't know, and they won't let me know.
SI: Do you know when the school committee plans to interview you?
RP: I haven't been notified yet, but it will be soon. I'm looking forward to talking to them.
SI: You have denied that you knew about this. There are a lot of people who believe that either you knew or you didn't want to know, but either way you are responsible. What's your response to that?
RP: First, I don't believe there's one coach that ever coached at this level that would tolerate it for one second.
The reason that I didn't know was everybody had so much fear of what would happen if I ever found out. They all know their jobs, their scholarships would have been pulled.
The second thing is, this took place in a dormitory that I built in my brother-in-law's name in honor of his legacy after [he was killed on] 9/11. I wouldn't let anybody break a chair in that place without coming down hard on them.
But I do understand this thinking because I had the same reaction at first.
SI: How many times did you talk to Andre after the book came out?
RP: Only one time, and he misled me. I was screaming, saying, "How can you do something like this?" He said, "Coach, all I did was have these women come over, and they just listened to music."
That was the last time I spoke to him. He got himself a lawyer, and I never spoke to him again. The NCAA also asked me not to speak to him until the investigation is over.
SI: Are you fully committed to remaining at Louisville?
RP: I'm more passionate today than I've ever been. I think I enjoy teaching as much as I've ever enjoyed it. If I believe in my heart that Louisville is better off without me, I would leave yesterday.
SI: How concerned are you that there will be more revelations and, therefore, more penalties?
RP: What we did was as harsh a penalty as anything I've ever witnessed. Now if there's something else that we don't know about, then that's another problem we have. But I truly think a lot of us will be vindicated when the NCAA comes out with its findings. People at Louisville know that I am telling the truth.