Louisville receives NCAA Notice of Allegations for escort scandal

Pat Forde
College football and basketball columnist
Louisville coach Rick Pitino could face a suspension. (AP)

After an investigation of the men’s basketball program spanning more than a year, the NCAA has delivered its Notice of Allegations to the University of Louisville and has charged the men’s basketball program with four Level One violations.

Those are the most serious violations in the association’s enforcement structure. They stem from revelations about strippers and escorts who were paid by former basketball staffer Andre McGee to provide entertainment for recruits and players – much of it in the on-campus basketball dorm named for coach Rick Pitino’s late brother-in-law, Billy Minardi. The investigation was spawned by the October 2015 tell-all book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,” written by Louisville madam Katina Powell.

In the Notice of Allegations that was made public by Louisville on Thursday, the NCAA alleges that McGee “arranged for and/or provided impermissible inducements, offers and/or extra benefits in the form of adult entertainment, sex acts and/or cash” to at least 17 recruits or current players, two AAU coaches and one friend of a recruit. The NCAA says the value of the impermissible benefits, which occurred between December 2010 and April 2014, was “at least $5,400.” The names of the involved recruits, players and AAU coaches in the report have been redacted by Louisville.

McGee is charged with two Level One violations.

The NCAA also charged Pitino with a Level One violation for failure to adequately monitor McGee. The NCAA says Pitino “failed to frequently spot-check the program to uncover potential or existing compliance problems, including actively looking for and evaluating red flags, asking pointed questions and regularly soliciting honest feedback to determine if monitoring systems were functioning properly regarding McGee’s activities and interactions with then men’s basketball prospective and current student-athletes visiting and attending the institution.”

The NCAA said Hall of Fame coach Pitino is subject to a show-cause ruling which could result in a suspension for multiple games, if the allegation is upheld by the Committee On Infractions when it rules on the case, likely in the spring or summer of 2017. Fellow Hall of Famers Jim Boeheim of Syracuse and Larry Brown, formerly of SMU, were suspended for nine games each last season for violations within their programs.

In its statement, Louisville said it will contest the charge against Pitino.

The fourth Level One violation alleges that former program assistant Brandon Williams, whose Louisville bio said he helped with on-campus recruiting, “violated the principles of ethical conduct when he refused to furnish information relevant to an investigation of possible violations of NCAA legislation. Specifically, Williams refused to provide telephone records after the institution and NCAA enforcement staff requested him to do so during the institution and enforcement staff’s investigation of NCAA violations.”

One thing that is prominently missing from the NOA: any charges directed at the university itself, such as a Lack of Institutional Control or a Failure To Monitor its basketball program. Those are two of the most significant allegations that can be made by the NCAA.

The school issued a joint statement from university president Neville Pinto and athletic director Tom Jurich on Thursday that says in part, “As parents and university leaders who care about every student who comes to the University of Louisville, we are heartbroken that inappropriate behavior took place here. It saddens us tremendously. We promised that if something was done wrong, we would be open about it, acknowledge it, and correct it. … The NOA aligns with the results of our inquiry: improper activities took place in a dormitory that never should have occurred.

“It is important to note what is not being alleged. The NOA does not contain an allegation that Coach Pitino had knowledge of what took place in the dormitory. The NCAA does not allege a ‘lack of institutional control’ at Louisville, a very severe allegation. The NCAA does not allege that there was a ‘failure to monitor’ against the institution, also a severe allegation. The NCAA does not allege that Coach Pitino failed to ‘promote an atmosphere of compliance’, a serious allegation. The NOA does contain a narrower allegation – which we will dispute – that Coach Pitino failed to demonstrate that he monitored Mr. McGee.

“We believe that Mr. McGee acted furtively and note that the NOA does not indicate that any other university employee besides Mr. McGee had knowledge of these activities. We are confident in Coach Pitino and we know he is and always has been committed to NCAA compliance.”

Former Louisville player and assistant coach Andre McGee (right) did not cooperate with investigators. (AP)

McGee, who resigned from his assistant coaching job at Missouri-Kansas City after the scandal broke, did not cooperate with investigators. It is unlikely he will coach again at an NCAA school.

Last season Louisville self-imposed significant sanctions on its program, including a postseason ban of a team that likely would have drawn a high seed in the NCAA tournament. Other self-imposed sanctions included scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions.

The question is whether those sanctions will be enough to satisfy the NCAA, or whether additional penalties may be applied to the basketball program as a whole. If so, those would not take effect before the 2017-18 season, given the timeline of the case.

“These allegations underscore why it was appropriate for the University to self-impose strict penalties on our basketball program earlier this year,” Pinto and Jurich said in the Louisville statement. “… When the facts were established, we acted. We took appropriate punitive and corrective actions. The penalties we imposed were among the most severe penalties ever self-imposed by an NCAA member.”

Having received the Notice of Allegations, Louisville now has 90 days to give its response – to either dispute or agree with allegations, or some combination thereof. After that, the NCAA has 60 days to give its own reply to Louisville’s response, and then a hearing date will be set.

Once the hearing is held, a ruling usually will be issued within 60 days. All told, the process probably will not be concluded until summer 2017.

The NCAA and Louisville jointly conducted more than 90 interviews during the course of the investigation. “I think we have ground every rock to powder,” said a source familiar with the investigation.

The source said this was a “relatively normal investigative process,” and that there were no significant surprises contained in the Notice of Allegations.

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