Cardinal Sin: University of Louisville basketball faces yet another scandal, as a FBI bribery investigation will likely cost coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich their jobs along with the suspension of a top recruit.
That’s the culmination of the week so far, anyway. I imagine we’re still only peeling away at the outer layers of the onion on this one. The investigation is ongoing.
On Tuesday, NBC News reported a federal investigation, exposing the “dark underbelly of college basketball,” revealed bribery schemes in which schools took money to set up top players with certain professional managers and advisers and also to pay players and their families to get recruits to sign with particular schools.
So the idea is simple, but a pretty long game: Identify a top high school player, get them to sign with a college sponsored by a shoe company, they sign with a manager or adviser who’s in on the deal, that manager or advisor reaps the rewards when that player goes pro, as does the shoe company when that player, now pro, signs a sponsorship deal.
Said acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim:
“The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one — coaches at some of the nation’s top programs taking cash bribes, managers and advisers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes, and employees of a global sportswear company funneling cash to families of high school recruits.”
The global sportswear company is allegedly Adidas, a sponsor of the University of Louisville program. The report does not list the university by name, nor does it list anyone involved by name, but Louisville has confirmed it is “University-6” in the report.
The university said it will cooperate fully with the investigation, as did Adidas. The company said it only learned of the situation when James Gatto, director of global sports marketing for Adidas, was arrested in conjunction with the report.
The company said in a statement:
“We’re unaware of any misconduct and will fully cooperate with authorities to understand more.”
Tuesday night, Coach Pitino released a statement:
“These allegations come as a complete shock to me. If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville.”
Pitino’s lawyer, Steve Pence, released a statement saying his client had, “in effect, been fired.”
The statement continued:
“Coach Pitino has done nothing wrong and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. The rush to judgment is regrettable.”
Coach Pitino has eight years remaining on his 10-year contract. He’s also pulled in more than $2 million from Adidas. ESPN says he’ll seek to get paid for his remaining contract.
WDRB’s Jason Riley tweeted a couple of excerpts pulled from the report here.
This is unreal, where a U of L coach says "we gotta be very low key" since U of L is already on probation. pic.twitter.com/JfSLiQ5h1G
— Jason Riley (@JasonRileyWDRB) September 26, 2017
Here is the paragraph. Certainly doesn't sound like recorded call. If so, Feds would said whether Gatto and Coach 2 talked about money pic.twitter.com/RyXciniWOj
— Jason Riley (@JasonRileyWDRB) September 28, 2017
This gets us to Thursday, if you can believe. It feels like this story is coming out in dog years.
“Coach-2” was much more involved, so if true, there are some pretty big implications here. “Coach-2” had direct contact with both Adidas and other sports management agents identified in the complaint.
According to FBI documents, at one point during a conversation in the hotel room, Brad Augustine, director of a Florida-based AAU program, allegedly said:
“No one swings a bigger [expletive] than [Coach-2] at [Adidas]. All [Coach-2] has to do is pick up the phone and call somebody [and say], ‘These are my guys; they’re taking care of us.’”
So, a classy operation.
His attorney said the information “is clearly insufficient to implicate Coach Pitino in any type of misconduct.”
Sports Illustrated and ESPN report two top recruits, Anfernee Simons of Bradenton, Fla., and Courtney Ramey of St. Louis, have rescinded their commitments to play for Louisville. And USA Today says another likely five-star recruit, New Albany’s Romeo Langford, is distancing himself from the Cardinals and turning his attention to Kansas instead.
SB Nation says Brian Bowen, who Sports Illustrated notes is the only player fitting the description of unnamed “Player-10” in the report, has been suspended indefinitely for allegedly receiving $100,000 to commit to the Cardinals.
And then there’s the coaching situation. Said interim university president, Greg Postel:
“We’re looking for someone with integrity, with knowledge of the sport, someone who can have the respect of the players and help us move along. We’ve got talented players. That hasn’t changed, and so there’s no reason this team can’t have a good season.”
NBC Sports says the players are backing assistant David Padgett for interim head coach. Which, under the circumstances, if that’s the guy players are going to want to play for, that’s the guy I’m going to call up. Somebody they can get behind can go along way about now.
So that’s a lot for three days. And I’ve a feeling the snowball has only just started its descent down the mountain, but we’ll see next week.
In the meantime, I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do and assume, naïve as it may be, Pitino is innocent until otherwise proven guilty.
And Joe Nocera of Bloomberg has an interesting take on the whole thing: NCAA rules may have been violated here — that’s certain — but have any federal laws? I mean, I’d like to think there wouldn’t have been any arrests or charges if that’s the case, but it’s a question worth taking a look at.
But even conceding that, this is the second scandal in as many years involving recruiting impropriety. And both times, blame has fallen on “bad actors” under his employ. I just think you can only go to the “inmates running the asylum” defense so many times before we have to check up on the chief of staff.
He’s a brilliant coach, for sure. But it looks like, admittedly from this very distant vantage point, that he’s either lost control if he’s innocent or lost his way if he’s guilty and in either case, sadly, the university is likely making the right choice to part ways. Maybe the only move it can make, really. I have a hard time imagining too many other coaches surviving the first scandal, frankly. So that’s either a testament to his legacy or the programs desire to hold onto one of the winningest coaches in the history of the game.
Game. Hey, remember about 100 or so years ago when amateur athletics weren’t a billion dollar industry? Me either. But this is something endemic to the NCAA, the booming cottage industries surrounding it and the quest to be the one sitting on the tallest pile of money. You can arrest a handful of coaches and agents and give a slap to an 18-year-old kid who sees a shot at financial stability for his family as a reality for the first time.
You can do that. But that’s not really the issue and people have been saying that for as long as I was old enough to know what an NCAA was.
Just like Wall Street from a few years back. If you don’t fundamentally change the system and how it operates, of course people are going to go back to doing whatever got them ahead before.
Spin Doctor: We say goodbye this week to a big name behind the scenes in hip-hop. Spin and Complex report Louisvillian Seth Firkins, sound engineer for Future, Young Thug, Mike WiLL Made-It, and more, has died. He was 36.
Firkins moved to Atlanta in 2006, where he became a mainstay of the Atlanta scene. He also worked with the likes of Jay-Z on his Grammy-nominated “American Gangster” and Rihanna, alongside the aforementioned Future, who eulogized his “real brother” on Instagram:
Here’s Seth talking about his work and approach for “Pensado’s Place.”
Thoughts and love to his family and loved ones, for whom there were clearly many. And if the measure of a person is how well they were loved and thought of, he was at the top of his game. Godspeed.
Crushed: Larry David appeared on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” on Tuesday to promote the upcoming season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Early in the interview, David confronted the host about a mutual admirer, Jennifer Lawrence, who once claimed to have a crush on both men, says TIME and W.
He’s referring to Lawrence’s December 2015 appearance on “Late Night” when she talked about almost asking Meyers for a date and attempting to slip David her phone number.
“She sat right here, and she said she had a crush on you, and she also had a crush on me. And when you heard that she also had a crush on me as well, you seemed quite displeased that we were lumped together. As if that detracted from the ego trip that you were on.”
“When she said you, I too was disappointed…To me it takes away from the crush if she’s mentioning other people. How special is it then for me? It’s not that special.”
“Well, we’ll have to let her know that this isn’t working for either of us.”
Here’s the full interview:
And on Monday, the big “Jimmy Kimmel Live” show released its 11th installment of “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets.” Time and InStyle say Jennifer Lawrence has the best response; she appears around the 2:03 mark. It is indelicate, so if that’s not your thing, feel free to move along.
Special thanks to all who wrote in and gave a well-wishing following the wedding segment at the end of last week’s column. I’ve always said the mighty “In Other News …” has the best darned community of readers out there. Even when you’re yelling at me about something or other. As always, thanks again for stopping by.
See you next week.