Louisville and Pitino escape major penalties in 5-year NCAA recruiting investigation

Louisville and Pitino escape major penalties in 5-year NCAA recruiting investigation

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The long-running NCAA saga of Brian Bowen’s recruitment by the University of Louisville basketball program – a secret $100,000 deal from Adidas and the many twists and turns that have follow-up – ended Thursday with not a bang but a groan.

An independent accountability review board — an outside process set up by the NCAA to handle complex cases — added no major sanctions for the program or for former head coach Rick Pitino for their role in a national payment scandal for college basketball, in a decision released Thursday morning.

Louisville will receive two years probation, a $5,000 fine, and some minor recruiting restrictions (2-week ban on unofficial visits, 7-day reduction in in-person recruiting days) for its part in a scheme that in 2017 resulted in agreed to pay Bowen $100,000 if he attended the U of L and signed with Adidas after turning pro.

In its decision, the IARP panel said it could not find sufficient evidence that adidas was acting in the interests of the U of L, or that the university had a role in its actions.

“The hearing panel has found that the case record does not provide sufficient or credible information to conclude that the clothing company (Adidas) was a representative of the interests of (Louisville) athletics,” said said an IARP statement this morning.

Louisville had faced increased penalties as a repeat NCAA offender, the offense following the school’s probation for Katina Powell’s rookie sex scandal, violations that also resulted in the cancellation by the school of its 2013 and 2012 NCAA championship. Final Four appearance and numerous other victories.

After the FBI showed up on campus on Sept. 26, 2017, and announced indictments of college basketball figures across the country (but none from the U of L), the school immediately put Pitino and director of athletics Tom Jurich on leave, soon voting to fire them both.

The University of L then settled with Jurich, paying him the sums owed under his contract and condemning the end of his employment to a mutual decision.

Pitino also sued the university but later dropped the lawsuit.

For Pitino, the decision was almost complete vindication. The NCAA, according to the 105-page decision, had actually advanced the argument that Pitino was “too strict on compliance for it to be effective.” The IARP rejected this argument and in fact stated the opposite in its ruling, that Pitino fostered an atmosphere of adequate compliance.

For Pitino, the decision also paves the way for a chance to end his career. After Louisville, he coached professionally in Greece for a time, before returning to college basketball in Iona, where he immediately led the Gaels to the NCAA Tournament.

Although University of L basketball escapes additional penalties, the cost to the program in terms of reputation, following, recruitment, and on-court success has been high.

The Cardinals narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament in 2018 under interim coach David Padgett. After the season, new athletic director Vince Tyra hired Chris Mack as head coach.

And the Louisville case continued. First delayed because federal officials asked the NCAA not to prosecute while its own investigation and trials were underway, the NCAA was then delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tyra called for pursuing a resolution through the IARP instead of the usual NCAA infraction process. The IARP was designed to streamline the hearing and resolution of these cases, but instead proceeded slowly on the few cases assigned to it. Louisville was the third to be decided by the group, all without major penalties.

He deserves credit for his handling of the case for most of his run in the NCAA process.

“We have provided a plan to the NCAA for immediate and strong change within our department, a voice of reason on allegations and the need for change in how the NCAA handles penalties globally,” Tyra said. “…I’d like to think our approach was right for all college sports and not just Louisville. The timeline for the decision was less than ideal and very damaging to the program, but Kenny Payne and our athletic leaders will take it. from here and put Louisville back in its place as an elite program. They now have definitive answers in hand. A valuable asset.

Louisville’s case has also been delayed by more minor NCAA allegations, these coming from assistant coach Dino Gaudio, who revealed the program sent out inappropriate recruiting materials and used unauthorized individuals to participate. in practice scrums. Those allegations left Mack in an exposed position regarding his future with the school, as did his handling of Gaudio’s departure after the Cardinals did not participate in the NCAA Tournament following the 2020-21 season.

Mack informed his longtime friend that he was not going to retain him as an assistant, and Gaudio was furious, threatening to go to the NCAA with allegations of wrongdoing if he was not paid. Gaudio pleaded guilty to extortion in federal court in August of last year. Mack was suspended for six games to start the season for failing to follow university guidelines in his handling of the Gaudio situation, which included a secretly taped conversation of an angry Gauido threatening the coach.

In January, with the team struggling, Mack negotiated a U of L buyout and left the program. Assistant coach Mike Pegues finished the season, in which the Cardinals posted a 13-19 record.

The NCAA found violations occurred during the use of unauthorized personnel in practice and inappropriate custom recruiting materials, but said the violations were “isolated and inadvertent” and did not find Mack in violation of NCAA Head Coach Liability Regulations.

After the season, Heird hired former Cardinal Kenny Payne as a coach. But with the NCAA allegations still hanging over the program, Payne found recruiting difficult.

“It’s been over five years,” Louisville athletic director Josh Heird said recently. “Think about it. Five years. It’s hard to believe. And so whatever the decision, there will be some relief. Once we know the results, I absolutely think it will be full steam ahead, go moving forward with Kenny Payne and the program.”

Former Louisville assistant coaches Kenny Johnson and Jordan Fair, who both reportedly participated directly in elements of the adidas program, received two-year penalties from the NCAA, meaning any penalties imposed on them will also go . in the schools where they work for a period of 2 years.

While the U of L remained cooperative with NCAA investigators throughout the process, Tyra pledged to fight allegations the university deemed unfair. His argument to the IARP was that adidas’ rogue officials were acting more on their own behalf than the university’s with their pay-to-play system.

The school raised eyebrows earlier this year when it hired attorney Neal Katyal, a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Hogan Lovells, which billed the school $2,465 from the hour.

But this decision illustrated the stakes of this outcome for the university, and perhaps the end result justifies the expense.

Either way, Heird said last week that he thinks the school can move forward quickly.

“I want it right behind us,” he said. “I want our program moving forward. I want Kenny (Payne) and his program to be able to move forward and put this behind us and make sure we never have to deal with this again.”

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