NCAA Suspends Louisville' Pitino after escort investigation

BY GARY B. GRAVES
AP SPORTS WRITER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- The NCAA has suspended Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino for five Atlantic Coast Conference games following its sex scandal investigation.

The governing body also handed down other penalties Thursday, including placing the basketball program on four years' probation, vacating wins in which ineligible players participated and issuing a 10-year show-cause order for former basketball operations director Andre McGee.

Former escort Katina Powell alleged that McGee had hired her and other escorts to strip and have sex with Louisville recruits and players.

The NCAA, which described the activities as "repugnant," has not vacated the Cardinals' 2013 national championship. The NCAA says the school must determine which games ineligible players participated in. Players deemed ineligible would be those involved in the sex parties, which are considered impermissible benefits.

Louisville interim President Greg Postel issued a statement saying the school believes the additional "severe" penalties are excessive and plans to appeal. The university, which has self-imposed several sanctions, has 45 days to respond.

"The entire UofL community is saddened by what took place. It never should have happened, and that is why the school acted to severely penalize itself in 2016," Postel said. "Today, however, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions went beyond what we consider to be fair and reasonable.

"We intend to appeal all aspects of the penalties."

Pitino, who has repeatedly denied any knowledge of McGee's actions, also fired back at the NCAA after reviewing the report.

"Not only was this unjust and over the top in its severity," the coach said at a news conference, "but I've lost a lot of faith in the NCAA.

"We are devastated by the news, all of us are," Pitino added. "But moving forward we believe we will win the appeal because it's right and it's just, and what went on was unjust and inconceivable."

The long-awaited NCAA announcement reiterated its original view that Pitino should have known about McGee's activities with Powell, who alleged in a 2015 book that staff McGee paid her $10,000 for 22 shows at the Cardinals' dormitory from 2010-14, a period that includes their NCAA title run.

The NCAA's release included statements by the panel on its decision, saying: "The types of activities that occurred in this case were repugnant and threaten the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model, regardless."

The NCAA also said, "Without dispute, NCAA rules do not allow institutional staff members to arrange for stripteases and sex acts for prospects, enrolled student-athletes and/or those who accompany them to campus."

Other penalties prescribed by the panel also include men's basketball scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions; a fine of $5,000, plus the university must return money received through conference revenue sharing for its appearances in the 2012 to 2015 NCAA men's basketball championships.

The NCAA accepted the university's self-imposed 2015-16 postseason ban.

The panel had harsh comments about McGee's actions in its decision.

"The former operations director, the individual entrusted to keep order at Minardi Hall, created an environment that has no place on a college campus and was directly at odds with college athletics and higher education," the panel said.

Louisville officials and Pitino met with the governing body in April, and at that time once again denied the allegation that the Hall of Fame coach failed to monitor McGee. Pitino has said he had no knowledge of the activities described in Powell's book, "Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen." The NCAA had said it in its earlier response to the school that Pitino didn't seem to want to know what his assistant was doing.

But Postel repeated his support of Pitino on Thursday.

"This ruling is also unfair to Coach Pitino," Postel said, "who we believe could not have known about the illicit activities."

The NCAA, once again, disagreed.

"For approximately four years, the head coach failed in his responsibility to monitor the activities of the former operations director, who reported to him," the report stated. "He essentially placed a peer of the student-athletes in a position of authority over them and visiting prospects and assumed that all would behave appropriately in an environment that was, for all practical purposes, a basketball dormitory.

"Further, he delegated responsibility for monitoring the former operations director to his assistant coaches, who later stated they were unaware it was their job."

There are references throughout the report to similar cases involving a lack of appropriate coaching oversight at other big-name schools - Miami, Syracuse and Indiana among them. Veteran Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and SMU's Larry Brown were each suspended for nine games in the 2015-16 season for infractions, related to both failing to keep track of how their players were receiving academics help.

Louisville self-imposed several sanctions last year, including a postseason ban along with reducing scholarships and recruiting visits by assistant coaches.

Powell's allegations led to several investigations, including one by Louisville's athletic department in February 2016 that ultimately determined violations did occur. It imposed a postseason ban in 2015-2016 season, but participated in last season's Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA Tournaments.

McGee did not cooperate with the NCAA investigation, a fact Postel emphasized in his statement.

"The person responsible for these activities, Andre McGee, long ago left the university, and he has yet to cooperate with investigating officials. We are disappointed that he was not cooperative," Postel said. "In contrast, UofL did cooperate. We wanted the NCAA Enforcement Staff to uncover what happened. We have been open and transparent throughout this process."