It’s Not What You Know

Recently, news broke that former escort, Katina Powell, wrote a book, Breaking the Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen. In it she alleges that between 2010 and 2014, a graduate assistant coach for the men’s basketball team at the University of Louisville, Andre McGee, paid her to provide strippers and sex for recruits of the program. Shocking, right? Naturally, when a story of this caliber reaches the airways, reporters do what they do best and start investigating.

Yesterday, reporters with ESPN’s Outside the Lines released some of their findings. Much of what their investigation found seems to confirm Ms. Powell’s allegations. Sources revealed that stripper parties turned into sexual escapades; that McGee gave recruits cash to throw at strippers; and that McGee paid for the recruits to have sex with the strippers of their choosing. Sources revealed that the root of all of debauchery was the quest to win over the nation’s top recruits. Apparently, in McGee’s mind top basketball recruits just needed naked women to help them decide which college to attend.

While many sources have similar stories, no one seems to be able to tie head coach, Rick Pitino, to any of it. Furthermore, he has been adamant that he had absolutely no knowledge of McGee’s or Powell’s dealings. Assuming the allegations are true, I guess it’s comforting to know that such a respectable man in college basketball had nothing to do with the unscrupulous behavior. But with all of his denial and a lack of evidence of his culpability, there is a big problem for Rick Pitino and Louisville, a problem that Larry Brown and Southern Methodist University know all too well.

But before jumping into Pitino’s problem, let’s be clear on what the overarching problem is: impermissible inducements. The NCAA prevents member schools and their staff from being “involved, directly or indirectly, in making arrangements for or giving or offering to give any financial aid or other benefits to a prospective student-athlete [recruit] or his or her relatives or friends, other than expressly permitted by NCAA regulations.” See NCAA Division I Bylaw 13.2.1. Essentially, staff can’t give any benefits to recruits to induce their attendance at a particular school without the NCAA’s express approval. While “paying for strippers and/or sex” is not explicitly prohibited in the Bylaws, I believe it’s safe to say that McGee’s actions, if true, would constitute the provision of impermissible benefits for recruits. Indeed, his actions would likely be categorized as Level I violations (the most severe), making suspensions, bans and forfeitures all up for grabs as potential penalties.

Now, let’s chat about the “Pitino problem;” NCAA Division I Bylaw 11.1.1.1. The Bylaw states:

“An institution’s head coach is presumed to be responsible for the actions of all institutional staff members who report, directly or indirectly, to the head coach. An institution’s head coach shall promote an atmosphere of compliance within his or her program and shall monitor the activities of all institutional staff members involved with the program who report, directly or indirectly, to the coach [emphasis added].”

For all of you Law & Order and criminal law buffs, Bylaw 11.1.1.1 is essentially the NCAA’s version of the R.I.C.O. It makes the leader of the organization responsible for the actions of his subordinates. It’s the same Bylaw cited in head coach Larry Brown’s suspension when, unbeknownst to him, members of his staff completed assignments for players and helped players skirt NCAA eligibility rules.

Here, there is no question that Pitino was the head coach at the time the alleged events took place. There is no question that McGee was a member of Pitino’s coaching staff at the time the alleged events took place. So if an NCAA investigation determines that the alleged events took place, Pitino’s (for lack a more sophisticated term) ass is grass. It will be of no consequence that no one can tie Pitino to the cash used to fund the stripper parties. It won’t matter that Pitino never met Powell or that he never told McGee to get players at all costs. None of that will matter because the NCAA is tired of head coaches turning a blind eye to violations and wants coaches to play a more active role in ensuring compliance.

So is Pitino doomed to walk down the same suspension plank as Brown? Not necessarily. As with any legal presumption, there’s always room for a rebuttal. If Pitino can show that he promoted an atmosphere of compliance and monitored his staff, he might be spared from enduring the NCAA’s direct punishment. What would constitute “promoting an atmosphere of compliance”? I can’t say for sure, but I would imagine that it would need to be something more significant than handing his staff some NCAA manuals and telling them to follow all the rules. Whatever the outcome, we can be sure that his “innocence” won’t have a thing to do with what he knew.

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