Pitino, Louisville In Hot Water Again as NCAA Levies Allegations

The 2019-20 college basketball season ended with a thud thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that left us with an unsatisfying conclusion to the year. Instead of having conference tournaments and March Madness with potential upsets, buzzer beaters and an eventual champion being crowned, we saw the season halt about as abruptly as driving 90 miles an hour into a brick wall. We heard about a potential positive story with a former national championship winning coach making his return to the college ranks. Rick Pitino, who won national titles with Kentucky in 1996 and Louisville in 2013, was fired by Louisville in 2017 as part of the “pay for play” scandal that rocked college basketball.

Pitino was hired to take over Iona’s program on March 14. He took over the program from Tim Cluess, who stepped down for health reasons, after spending the last two-plus seasons with Panathinaikos in Greece. Unfortunately, it seems that the issues that surrounded the tail end of Pitino’s run with Louisville has come back to haunt him once again.

On Monday, the NCAA announced that a Level I allegation surrounding Louisville’s recruitment of Bruce Bowen II and the coach of another prospect. In addition to that, there were three Level II allegations handed down, with one directly implicating Pitino. In the report, Pitino was alleged to have not fulfilling his responsibility as a head coach to push for compliance in accordance with NCAA rules and regulations. Louisville is one of seven programs that have been hit with a Notice of Allegations since the FBI looked into the whole pay for play scandal a few years ago.

When asked about the allegations, both Iona and Pitino released their own statements about the situation. In their release, Iona said that “We are aware of the report. The NCAA has a process to address the allegations. Prior to hiring Coach Pitino, we conducted extensive due diligence. We support Coach Pitino and expect him to respond within the process.”

For his part, Pitino spoke out about the situation, stating: “Today the NCAA released an NOA and alleges a Level II violation against me. I firmly disagree with this allegation and will follow the protocols in addressing this allegation through the administrative process. Due to NCAA bylaws on public disclosure on enforcement issues, I will have no further comment on this matter until it is resolved.”

According to the NCAA rules, Pitino could be hit with a show-cause order for the violation. The punishment could run up to half a season depending on what they deem as to the severity of the infractions that led to the violation. The problem goes back to the recruitment of Bruce Bowen II as it was determined that a group, led by Christian Dawkins, funneled $100,000 to his father in order to try and get him to sign with Louisville. Bowen II was ruled ineligible in September 2017 and then was ruled ineligible again after he transferred to South Carolina. He ended up never playing at the college level before signing a two-way contract with the Pacers last summer.

It’s another blow to Pitino’s reputation and that of the Louisville program. The Cardinals have been on probation with the NCAA three times since 1996 while Pitino has had his own issues. He was dinged for the escort sex scandal at Louisville between 2010 and 2014. As a result, Louisville made the decision to not take part in postseason play in the 2015-16 season. He was later suspended for the first five games of the ACC season in 2017-18 but was finished with the program before that season got started.

The NCAA later vacated Louisville’s victories from 2011-12 through 2014-15, during which time the Cardinals won 123 games. In addition, the 2013 national championship and the Final Four appearance in 2012 were vacated as well. For his career, Pitino has a 770-271 record in his coaching career, though that included the 123 wins that were taken off the books. He was the first coach to win national titles at two different schools and the first to lead three different teams to the Final Four. While Pitino clearly is no angel, the fact remains that he deserves a second chance to try and show that he can coach without having a cloud of suspicion over his head. Hopefully, this is dealt with and Pitino can move on from here.

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Chris King

Chris King has been immersed in the world of professional and collegiate sports for more than three decades. Whether it's playing pickup games or being involved in organized sports to being a fan, he's checked all the boxes. From the NFL to arena football, the NHL to the KHL, the NBA to the WNBA to college hoops, and even MLB to the KBO. If it's out there, he's covered it and bet on it as well, as Chris has been an expert bettor in his career. Before joining Winners and Whiners back in 2015, his work appeared around the internet and in print. He's written books for Ruckus Books about college basketball, the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, golf, and the World Cup. If you're looking for the inside track on hitting a winner, do yourself a favor and read what Chris has to say.