By Neil Patrick Healy and Jack Rieger
An open letter to Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich:
In men’s college basketball, a coach’s job description goes beyond the X’s and the O’s. They are the face of the program and, in some cases, the face of the university. The head coach of your program, Rick Pitino, falls into those ranks, which is why he has come under fire. Former escort Katina Powell’s book “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen” was published earlier this month, and the accusations are damning to the basketball program, your athletic department and the entire university. Five former Louisville players and recruits have confirmed stories of former graduate assistant coach Andre McGee orchestrating 20 parties with alcohol, strippers and money changing hands for sexual favors. McGee has since stepped down as the assistant coach at the University of Missouri–Kansas City and Pitino should be next. With the severity of these allegations it is time for you to pull the trigger. Fire Rick Pitino.
The details of this scandal are appalling. Powell, her three daughters and over two dozen dancers performed at these parties from 2010-2014, where they were paid to strip naked, dance for the recruits and even negotiate terms for “side deals.” You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that those “side deals” were for sex.
“The recruit would pick out what girl he wanted,” Powell said in an interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines. “Andre would come to me, tell me what girl the recruit wanted, and I would tell the girl and she would say her price.”
Powell even said that she had sex with recruits’ parents and guardians to secure a commitment. This is not the typical NCAA violation with some school giving a recruit a new car or paying his rent, and everyone just happens to be looking the other way. Besides the fact that prostitution is illegal in the state of Kentucky, all of these crimes were committed at Mindardi Hall, an on-campus dorm named after Pitino’s late brother-in-law who died during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, while under coaching supervision. One anonymous former recruit said that the dorm parties were “like a strip club.” McGee being gone is not enough to make up for the atrocities of these allegations. The entire coaching staff, most notably Pitino, must be held responsible.
Pitino claims he knew nothing about the parties, the strippers or the side deals, but this is highly unlikely. How does a coach who is in charge of almost every detail of the basketball program’s success not know this is going on?
“This is my theory,” Powell said. “Four years. A boatload of recruits. A boatload of dancers. Loud music. Alcohol. Security. Cameras. Basketball players who came in at will. You got players that are so loyal to Pitino. Who wouldn’t be like, ‘Hey, you know, we got dancers and sex and all that going on?’ My thing is how could he not know?”
Let’s say he didn’t know. Does that make the situation any better? If Pitino was completely unaware of the blatant and obvious NCAA and legal violations going on under his nose, then he does not have control of his program. If a graduate assistant coach, who doesn’t have much authority, can orchestrate this entire affair with numerous strippers, players, recruits and recruits’ families while all of this takes place on campus, then that alone is a firing offense. This sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous. Either Pitino is lying or he had his head in the sand. Either way, he should not have a job because of it.
The biggest star on a college basketball team is typically the head coach, and Louisville is no exception. In fact, Pitino is the biggest star on Louisville’s campus. This is one of the reasons why Pitino has yet to be fired; the coaching-centric culture of college basketball is harboring his job. Think about this: USC’s head football coach Steve Sarkisian was fired two weeks ago for repeatedly showing up drunk to games and team meetings and battling an alcohol addiction. While not a good career move, drinking alcohol is legal, yet the college football media and the USC athletic department didn’t think twice before firing Sarkisian. Pitino and Louisville’s basketball program have organized and financed an on-campus brothel for four seasons, which of course is illegal and immoral, yet the athletic department has defended Pitino and has said they have no intention of firing him.
As for the college basketball media’s attention towards the scandal, ESPN.com, the NCAA.com, Sports Illustrated, and Bleacher Report don’t have any news concerning Pitino on their home page as of Oct. 26. Neither did the Courier-Journal, the largest newspaper in Louisville. Apparently on-campus brothels and sex parties run by one of the largest college basketball programs in the country isn’t newsworthy.
Let us also remind you, Tom, that this is not the first time Pitino has brought bad publicity to the program. Back in 2009, Pitino was involved in a sexual extortion case when he admitted to having a sexual affair with the wife of a Louisville equipment manager. The encounter was, according to Pitino, “no more than 15 seconds,” but the woman came to him several weeks later saying she was pregnant and asked Pitino to pay her $3,000 for an abortion. Keep in mind that 2009 was right before these new allegations of recruits sleeping with strippers would take place.
Pitino has been given enough chances. His coaching career is one of the best in college basketball history, but his actions off the court should trump his accomplishments on it. You, Tom, have even given Pitino your vote of confidence, saying, “Coach Pitino has no plans to step down and he absolutely didn’t know about the allegations.” This is not the right decision for your program and for your university. It is your responsibility to put the welfare of the program, the athletic department and the university over the storied career of a coach who has either abused his power or was unaware of those abusing theirs. Tom Jurich, you must do what is right. Fire Pitino.
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