Kentucky Sports Radio published a two-page letter sent to Louisville fans and donors from Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino Wednesday, in which the embattled coach (yet again) invoked 9/11, Bernie Madoff, and his infamous Italian restaurant sexcapade in an attempt to convince Louisville donors and fans of his innocence in his program’s prostitution scandal.
The letter, which can be read in full at the bottom of this post, is nothing new in terms of its overall message, falling in line with the press conference he gave last Thursday and answers he’s provided since the story broke in 2015. Pitino stuck by his guns in his letter, pointing to the school’s self-imposed postseason ban (“We took away a chance to possibly go to a Final Four and win a National Championship”) and trailing off on several unconvincing tangents as proof “the committee penalized us beyond reason.”
The most notable tactic Pitino employed (one he’s employed since Day 1) is continuing to highlight the undeniable culpability of Andre McGee, the Louisville staffer who arranged for Katina Powell and her daughters and workers to provide dances and sexual favors for recruits as young as 16 years old.
In Pitino’s version of events, McGee functions as the sole evil actor, lying to and manipulating Cardinals athletics officials for years while also using school facilities to host the events for underage recruits. He goes as far as referencing Madoff (“Bernie Madoff fooled the smartest people on Wall Street, SEC, family, brokers and major hedge funds”) to prove that even intelligent people, presumably in addition to those tasked with running a collegiate men’s basketball program, get fooled by liars.
Pitino says that nobody at Louisville he spoke with had any notion as to what was happening, that McGee hoodwinked everyone in town. The Cardinals coach referenced the first conversation he had with McGee after the scandal broke, pointing out multiple times that McGee was untrustworthy, and adding that even if he had asked him straight-up about the after-hours parties, McGee would have denied his involvement.
I can assure you that if I asked Andre any difficult question, he would have lied to my face to avoid immediate termination.
Did the NCAA enforcement staff believe that Andre would ever tell me the truth if we were face to face? Absolutely not. He would have lied and lie some more. He knew how much that dorm meant to me. He knew how sickened I would be by his action
Pitino later added that he would have never allowed such actions to occur in Billy Minardi Hall, which is named after his brother-in-law that died in the 9/11 attacks. Again, this is a tried-and-true, go-to reference for Pitino when faced with controversy.
He’s referenced the attacks multiple times before in his career, twice after he was caught having a brief sexual encounter in an Italian restaurant, and again last October, in response to the current scandal. As was the case with those references, his latest 9/11 line is meant to show how captial-S Serious he is about the matter; instead, it comes off as not much more than an appeal for the empathy of the boosters.
Billy Minardi Hall was built in memory of my best friend and brother‐in‐law who I lost on 9/11. If I knew of anything that was going on there that would dishonor his name, that person wouldn’t be able to get out of town fast enough.
Regardless of the tangents, the message in the letter was the same one Pitino peddled to reporters for the past year-and-a-half: Louisville’s 2016 sanctions were harsh enough, and neither the school nor Pitino should not be further faulted for the actions of a horny, lone-wolf staffer.
It’s the exact same thing he told reporters last Thursday, when the the 64-year-old coach held a press conference to inform Louisville fans and the public that he and the university would be fighting the sanctions. He also intimated that the NCAA’s investigation of Jim Valvano played a part in the late N.C. State coach’s death—it was a weird presser. This came just hours following the NCAA’s announcement that it would, among other punitive actions, recoup millions in tournament money and suspend Pitino for five ACC games.
It was clear starting in January that there was going to be a messy appeals process. Louisville accepted 37 of the 40 violations the NCAA found, but the school and Pitino pushed back hard against the ones that stuck Pitino with charges of program negligence. And if one were to only read Louisville and Pitino’s arguments—which, among other items, includes the rebuttal that the strippers were cheap and didn’t actually help them recruiting-wise—it’d actually be an easy scandal to move past.
Since this case broke, Pitino has shielded himself behind his ignorance, as if such ignorance should excuse him from catching any sanctions from the NCAA. But if Pitino—one of highest paid coaches in American college basketball (over $7 million per year in salary and shoe deals, per the Courier-Journal)—was as ignorant of McGee’s actions as he claims to be, then he and Louisville got off light with a five-game suspension, several millions in fines, and an “erased” championship.
This is not a run-of-the-mill NCAA violation, on par with, say, a booster footing the bill for a recruit’s rent. If it was, Pitino’s ass-covering campaign would be far more acceptable, but any argument that tries to pass off these specific violations as nothing more than a symptom of the NCAA’s broken and immoral system falls flat when you get to the details that were uncovered by NCAA investigators:
At least seven, and as many as 10, of the 15 prospects were minors under the age of 18 at the time the former operations director arranged the activities for them. Four of the prospects who engaged in sex acts were 17, while one other was 16. One 16-year-old declined the offer of a sex act. A third 16-year-old witnessed a striptease dance but was not interviewed; therefore, it could not be ascertained if he was offered or engaged in any sex acts.
Over a four-year period, high-school recruits, some as young as 16, were offered and received sexual favors—stripteases, blowjobs, intercourse—on Louisville’s campus, and it was all facilitated by a member of Pitino’s staff. Nothing—not claims of ignorance, finger-pointing at the NCAA for being a bully, 9/11, or Pitino’s faith—will erase this from the record, nor can anything excuse the fact that Pitino claims to have learned about this essentially at the same time as everyone else (“I was coaching the Puerto Rican National team in Mexico when reports of the book first broke.”) Despite what Pitino believes, he’s far closer to a show-cause penalty than he is impunity.
You can read Pitino’s letter below.