Just as we wrap up National Signing Day Coverage here on InsideTheACC, our next breaking news story seemingly writes itself. Mike McDaniel here, joined by partner-in-crime Justin Cates to discuss the latest scandal to hit the ACC.
News about the Louisville Cardinals recruiting scandal involving the use of paid escorts to perform “shows and other lewd acts” on college prospects broke a couple of months ago and implicated one of Rick Pitino’s former assistant coaches Andre McGee, and the team as a whole.
Today, the Louisville Basketball Program announced it had concluded its internal investigation and will implement a one-year postseason basketball ban, which includes both the ACC Tournament, as well as the NCAA Tournament, which will begin next month. The #19 ranked Cardinals are 18-4 overall, and their 7-2 record puts them second in the ACC heading into Saturday’s match-up against Boston College. The timing could not be worse for Rick Pitino’s squad, as they are days removed from their biggest win of the season, a 71-64 upset of #2 North Carolina.
There are so many levels to this story, Cates. To start things off though, what was your initial reaction to the announced sanctions by the school this afternoon?
Justin: My initial reaction was just feeling awful for Damion Lee and Trey Lewis who utilized the graduate transfer rule to finish out their careers at Louisville. They went to Louisiville specifically to play in the postseason and win a championship. As is too often the case, the innocent will be punished for the misdeeds of the guilty parties who continue to be paid without reprisal. I can’t fully express how this burns me up without going full Deadspin and utilizing my filthy vocabulary, so I’ll refrain and ask how you felt?
Mike: Yeah, you and me both. My first thought was how bad I felt for Lee and Lewis. Coming from schools like Drexel and Cleveland State, that duo just wanted to realize a dream of playing in an NCAA Tournament. It’s completely unfair that they are the ones to fall on the sword, but unfortunately in this situation, I’m afraid that the school’s hands are tied. With this internal investigation concluding and no real details being released, I can only imagine that this may be worse than we all thought. This was a tough story to stomach to begin with, but the overall sentiment seems to be that the Cardinals wanted to get out ahead of these new details that have yet to come to the surface. Will the NCAA take it easier on the Louisville program now that they self-sanctioned? Only time will tell at this point, but this entire matter is completely unprecedented, so it’s hard to tell where Mark Emmert and the NCAA will go from here.
Outside of the internal investigation, what do you think a likely NCAA penalty would be?
Justin: The announcement was made a year to the day that Syracuse self-imposed a postseason ban so let’s look at what happened there. Head coach Jim Boeheim was suspended for nine ACC games and forced to vacate 108 of his career victories. The program lost 12 scholarships over four years and there were also fines including $500 per game played by an ineligible player, but these are different circumstances. Syracuse was punished for considerable academic misconduct whereas the Cardinal program is looking at charges that amount to significant recruiting violations.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rick Pitino — who ironically was the first assistant coach hired by Boeheim when he started at Syracuse — suffer a similar fate. He’ll get suspended some length of time and the team will lose scholarships. The Orange also self-imposed a loss of one scholarship which Louisville didn’t do.
It will be interesting to see just how bad the violations were and how the punishment will compare. The NCAA is nothing if not inconsistent in both the length of its investigations and the outcomes of the cases. The repercussions are going to be severe though don’t you agree Mike?
Mike: Oh without a doubt. I agree with your thoughts about the Syracuse punishment being a de-facto place to start. What is going to be fascinating about this story as it continues to unfold is just how many layers are there to this story? It is a long-winded sequence of events already, but as you and I both know, the worst is yet to come as far as the details are concerned. There has never been an issue quite like this that has come into the limelight to this magnitude before, and with as complex of a violation as we have seen on the recruiting trail, it’s really hard to fathom where the NCAA could go with these punishments. Realistically, I believe a multiple-year postseason ban is most likely hanging in the balance. I envision the self-imposed ban this year, obviously, followed by what will most likely be another forced absence from postseason play next year, with multiple scholarship losses and a hefty suspension for head coach Rick Pitino.
Let’s take this additional step, Cates. Do you think there is a possibility that Rick Pitino loses his job over this? I personally think that the distinct possibility is there for that to happen depending on how gruesome these pending details could be. Further, is the NCAA’s most-egregious sanction, the Death Penalty, in play here? I know it could be a stretch for sure, but what do you think?
Justin: No I don’t really see it going that far. Pitino is a Hall of Fame coach which means he’s virtually untouchable. Nothing really happened to Boeheim after his transgressions and that’s typical in these cases. Whether a head coach knew what was happening or not, there’s always a fall guy in the form of a “rogue” assistant or a booster who was acting without the knowledge of the staff.
At most, we might see Pitino revert to his retirement plan from a few years back and end his career after next season. It’s safe to say he’s going to be fairly toxic on the recruiting circuit especially with pending sanctions, so that may be best for everyone.