FBI sting eases way for Jurich to say farewell to Pitino

Ironic that I was just wondering Monday about how things could get any worse at the University of Louisville, knowing that the school already had more than its share of problems. Just had a gut feeling that more bad news was inevitable.

Tuesday began as a quiet, peaceful day. Then all hell breaks loose mid-morning with a text from junior about a WDRB tweet, something about the UofL basketball program being involved in a Justice Department investigation. Just how bad could it possibly get that Louisville is suspected in a scheme to funnel cash to prospective players?

Just our luck that the FBI would, for some reason, get involved in the shabby business of college basketball recruiting. After years of the system being abused by some of the top programs in the nation, UofL is the one that gets nailed by the Justice Department.

The gut feeling here, if the allegations are true, is that UofL was new to the game of using shoe companies to attract players. That possibly Coach Rick Pitino, watching rival schools get away with the practice without any repercussions for years, maybe thinking it was time to take advantage of a broken system or see his program get left behind.

If true, that’s unfortunate. But it’s also understandable in a cut-throat business where some coaches have made an art out of breaking the rules, taking advantage of close ties with shoe companies to consistently recruit the best players. Despite the disadvantages, Pitino’s UofL teams were consistently ranked in the top 10 to 15 teams in the nation, with three final fours and a national championship.

Let’s hope it’s true what the FBI said in Tuesday’s news conference said about the dirty underbelly of college basketball recruiting, warning other college basketball coaches that the investigation is far from over. “If you are aware of this type of conduct, call us,” said the spokesman. “Better for you to call us than us to be calling you.”

A shock for sure, but somewhat easier to bear, with a promise from the FBi that the investigation of such practices has only just begun.

Rick Pitino’s days as coach at the University of Louisville basketball program are probably behind him. Probably the best college basketball coach in America, demanding and expecting the best effort from every player, a master at getting players to meet or exceed their potential.

There’s no way he can stick around, however, not with the revelations coming when his basketball program was already under probation. Controversy follows him like a plague, first the sex scandal with Karen Sypher, the stripper controversy orchestrated by former player Andre McGee and now this, with what seems to be hard evidence of intent to pay tens of thousands of dollars to recruits.

There were already whispers around the program that some members of the Board of Trustees were pressuring Vice President of Athletics Tom Jurich to fire Pitino over the most recent sex scandal. The word was that Jurich did not want to fire Pitino for something of which he had no knowledge,

The latest revelation may have made things easier for Jurich who has always said he wanted a clean program and would not tolerate recruiting violations.  Tom has been tested and tested again by the goings on in the basketball program He has no choice now but to let Pitino go.

The worst thing that could happen would be for Jurich to decide that he has had enough, that he would possibly even consider leaving the University of Louisville. I personally want to be around when TJ cuts the ribbon on the latest football stadium expansion, the baseball stadium expansion and whatever else Tom wants to build at UofL.

Let him go, Tom. Enough grief already.

Louisville can’t allow NCAA punitive measures to go unchallenged

Rick Pitino has never been one to go down without a fight (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

So much for the University of Louisville being repentant, trying to cooperate with the NCAA and imposing harsh self-punishment on the UofL basketball program. It obviously does not pay to not challenge the NCAA every step of the way on alleged violations.

Nothing UofL could have said or did would have placated the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The committee gave little credence to any actions taken by the school to show contrition. The members were apparently determined from the beginning to administer the harshest punishment possible to the basketball program.

Rick Pitino says he has lost a lot of respect for the NCAA during the investigation of the program (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

In essence, the committee members were saying to the University of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino that they didn’t believe him, that he was aware of the violations, that he allowed them to continue, and that he was personally culpable for Andre McGee’s actions. 

They also were throwing the middle finger to Acting UofL President Greg Poster, Vice President of Athletics Tom Jurich, and all University of Louisville basketball fans. As if these individuals condoned what went on in the early morning hours at Billy Minardi Hall, as if they were not embarrassed, sickened and disgusted by the activities. As if they were all equally to blame for the abhorrent behavior.

The committee chair was angry at Andre McGee for not cooperating so they took it out on everybody else associated with the program.  My, how the actions of one or couple of individuals can affect not only a basketball program, but the people who entrusted them and thousands of fans wanting only the right things for their university.

Perhaps even worse is to be judged by a panel of individuals sitting in judgement who appear to have ignored all the steps taken by the university to get to the facts. So appalled by the societal issues that they never get past their initial reactions, making them collectively impotent, incapable of rendering a fair or appropriate decision.

“The penalty far exceeded our expectation,” said Chuck Smrt, a UofL consultant and former NCAA investigator. “The severity of the penalties exceeds the severity of this case.”

The proposed punishment was drawn up by a subcommittee of seven members of the Committee on Infractions. Few, if any, people outside that small group know how the process worked. The guess here is that Carol Cartwright, former President of Bowling Green University and Kent State, drafted the recommendations and they were rubber-stamped by the other members. No one outside the small group apparently questioned whether the punishment fit the crime.

Acting President Greg Postel promised a vigorous appeal of the NCAA action (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Acting UofL President Greg Postel said the NCAA action will be vigorously appealed. “We believe the penalties imposed today are unfair to the UofL community and our current and former student-athletes, many of whom have already paid a heavy price for actions that did not involve them,” he said. “This ruling is also unfair to Coach Pitino, who we believe could not have known about the illicit activities.

Rick Pitino was understandably shocked by the severity of the proposed penalties. “For 35 years I’ve had faith in the NCAA, but in the recent past, they have made some decisions that are unjust,” he said. “I’ve lost a lot of trust and I’m going to put all my faith and beliefs in the appeals committee. What’s in this report (from the Committee on Infractions) is way over the top and inconceivable. We believe we will win the appeal.”

Tom Jurich has taken University of Louisville athletics to new heights during his 17 year tenure (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Tom Jurich, who has taken the UofL athletic program to new levels during his tenure, was obviously still numb an hour after the penalties were announced. Anyone who has accompanied him on this journey had to empathize with him, knowing how open and honest he is, how effective he has been, with UofL enjoying unprecedented success and growth in all 22 sports across the department. 

Sadly, only to have Louisville basketball embarrassed by an irresponsible former player and have an out-of-touch NCAA committee attempt to erase the program’s crowning moments.

*    *   *

The seven members of the Committee on Infractions subcommittee, which recommended the penalties on the UofL basketball program, were:

–Chairperson Dr. Carol Cartwright, former President of Bowling Green State University and Kent State University.
–William Bock III, attorney with Kroger, Gardis & Regas. an Indianapolis, Indiana law firm, and a graduate of Michigan.
–Greg Christopher, athletic director, Xavier University.
–Thomas Hill, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, Iowa State University.
–Stephen Madva, attorney and managing partner, Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, in Philadelphia.
–Joe Novak, former head football coach, Northern Illinois University.
–Larry Parkinson, Director of Enforcement, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Fortunately for everyone affected, the appeals process goes through another committee.

Stockman eyes more playing time at Minnesota



 Still waiting for Matz Stockman to make that breakthrough to the next level? Not going to happen, at least not at the University of Louisville.

Hopes that the 7-foot, 240-pound Stockman could someday be a dominant force in the middle for the UofL basketball team were dashed Tuesday. Stockman is transferring to the University of Minnesota.

Rick Pitino was obviously involved in the decision, possibly frustrated with Stockman’s lack of progress during three seasons at UofL. He was rarely used this year, playing only 74 minutes in 18 games and averaging 1.7 points and 1.2 rebounds per game.

But the elder Pitino is also aware that if someone with Stockman’s physique and personality were to somehow become motivated, he could make a difference for some team. Best to keep him in the family, encouraging Stockman to play for his son Richard at Minnesota. 

Stockman will have to sit out a season, becoming eligible for 2018-19 campaign. “Matz has been a great team member with our basketball team and we appreciate his efforts,” said Pitino.  “Transferring to Minnesota is a great move for him, as he’ll have an opportunity to make an immediate impact when he becomes eligible to play.” 

Stockman is looking forward to getting much more playing time. “I’ve been looking for an opportunity to play quality minutes for a long time now and I think this will be a great situation for me,” he said.

Hopefully a motivated Stockman doesn’t come back to haunt his old UofL coach in a couple of years.

NCAA focuses on sexual activity, Pitino is the easiest target

That dark cloud is back, the one emanating from the NCAA investigation of the University of Louisville basketball program, casting an ugly shadow over an already deeply scarred Belknap Campus.

The NCAA enforcement staff, one of the world’s slowest deliberative bodies, has finally gotten back to UofL’s response on a charge that Rick Pitino did not monitor the activities of Andre McGee. The reaction from the NCAA is disturbing, claiming that the UofL coach should have been much more active in supervising McGee.

This coming from an organization that goes overboard to promote racial equality, essentially suggesting in its response that Pitino should have micro-managed McGee. That somehow the coach should have known that illicit activities were occurring at Minardi Hall. That the individual Pitino made Director of Basketball Operations was not worthy of his trust. That Pitino should have been looking over McGee’s shoulder.

Courtesy of Kelly Dickey

If Pitino is guilty of anything, he is at fault for trusting McGee not to drag UofL’s basketball program into the gutter.  As a result, the university has been exposed to shame and ridicule. The coach’s demands for strict adherence to NCAA rules were obviously ignored. And his reputation, personally and professionally, has taken a major blow.

Simply because Pitino trusted McGee.

In essence, what the NCAA is suggesting is that Pitino knew that McGee was up to no good. The NCAA enforcement committee avoids making a direct accusation but its response also could be interpreted to mean that Pitino actually knew what was occurring at Minardi Hall. 

Pitino has probably produced more successful college basketball coaches than anyone in the profession. Billy Donovan, Tubby Smith, Ralph Willard, Kevin Willard, Jim O’Brien, Mick Cronin, Travis Ford, and Scott Davenport, just to name a few. He didn’t achieve that monitoring their every move.

The UofL coach no doubt had high hopes for Andre McGee, hoping he would join that group some day. McGee probably would have followed a similar path had he acted responsibly. From all indications, McGee just wasn’t mature enough to handle the expectations.

As a result, Pitino may well be subject to a severe penalty, possibly a temporary suspension similar to that incurred by Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. Boeheim was suspended for nine games for a number of years of illegal recruiting activities. 

The difference is that Boeheim was actively involved. There is no evidence that Pitino knew, or should have known, that illicit activities were occurring at Minardi Hall. No evidence whatsoever.

Pitino’s knowledge, or lack of it, seems to be beside the point. The enforcement committee report goes into great detail on the sexual activity and seems determined to ensure that someone pays dearly for it. Rick Pitino just happens to be in the line of fire.

Shades of Jeff Ruland, Moritz Wagner dominates Louisville

Someone around here once said if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Possibly true but there seemed to be little difference from beginning to the bitter end this year.

One long basketball season for the University of Louisville, a few peaks but too many valleys. A failure to maintain focus on defense, accompanied by the lack of any sustainable offensive threat. proving fatal in the end in games that counted the most.

So many times UofL was unable to finish games, to rise to the challenge, even when it was obvious what the opposition was going to do.

The Cardinals caving again on Sunday, giving up still another nice lead in the second half, this time to Michigan 73-69. The loss sending the Louisville home after the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Jeff Ruland had 30 points and 21 rebounds for Iona against the 1980 champs.

Never has the pick and roll looked so easy as it did for Michigan’s Moritz Wagner in a 26-point performance. Probably the most dominating performance by a big man against Louisville in three decades.

The last time was when Iona’s Jeff Ruland scored 30 points in a 77-60 win over the eventual national champs in 1980. Iona, which was coached by the late Jim Valvano, had a 35th year reunion a couple of years ago to celebrate that win. 

One of the most maddening things about this team was the inability of Louisville’s big guys to hit the close-in shots or cash in on the gimme’s, consistently missing wide open, uncontested dunks all season long. Followup tip-ins always a bonus, coming as a complete surprise all too often.

Reminiscent of the first couple of seasons after Rick Pitino arrived in Louisville.  Lack of confidence, not much scoring from the bench, a poor shooting team, shaky from the field and on the free throw line, and unable to defend the basket. 

When the deterioration sat in in the second half, it was quickly apparent there was not going to be a happy ending. Not surprisingly for close followers of this Louisville team.