U of L imposing postseason hoops ban

Jeff Greer
Louisville Courier Journal

The University of Louisville announced on Friday that it would self-impose a postseason ban on its men’s basketball team for the 2015-16 campaign, a move that stunned coach Rick Pitino and sent shockwaves through the city and the college basketball community.

The decision comes as the NCAA continues to investigate Katina Powell’s claims that she and other escorts were paid thousands of dollars and given game tickets by former basketball staffer Andre McGee in exchange for dancing for and having sex with U of L players and recruits from 2010-14.

The NCAA could still levy further sanctions on U of L in addition to the self-imposed penalty, but university president James Ramsey is hopeful that the postseason ban will reduce the harshness of any potential punishment in the future.

“The University of Louisville determined that it was reasonable to conclude that violations had occurred in the men’s basketball program in the past,” Ramsey said, who added that he “continued to support” Pitino and athletics director Tom Jurich.

“I recognize that this is a significant penalty for our program and that this will be a disappointment to our student-athletes and to many in the University of Louisville family: our students, our faculty, our staff, our alumni, our friends and our great fans.”

Louisville Rick Pitino says when he told the team about the post season ban they all got up and hugged Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. 
Feb. 5, 2016

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It is a serious blow to Pitino and his current team, which has an 18-4 record and is in second place in the competitive Atlantic Coast Conference. Louisville, ranked 19th in the latest AP poll, had high hopes for deep runs in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, even more so after defeating second-ranked North Carolina on Monday.

Pitino informed his team of the postseason ban at a meeting before Friday’s press conference. The players, Pitino said, surrounded and hugged graduate transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, who came to U of L for their final year of college eligibility so they could experience their first NCAA tournament.

An emotional Pitino said the word “painful” to describe the meeting would be an understatement.

Reached Friday by phone, Lee’s mother, Michelle Riddick, declined to comment on the school’s decision, saying she’d like to speak with her son. Lewis’s dad, Joe, said the announcement was “heartbreaking.”

“This is a team that was very much favored to go very far in the tournament, so this penalty is quite substantial,” Pitino said. “It comes as a complete shock to me.”

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U of L first learned of Powell’s allegations at the end of August, when the school was approached by Powell’s coauthor Dick Cady for comment on her claims, which are laid out in the book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen.”

Jurich hired former NCAA enforcement staffer Chuck Smrt to conduct an inquiry on U of L’s behalf, and Smrt began working in coordination with the NCAA. The Commonwealth’s Attorney in Louisville is also looking into Powell’s claims.

ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” reported in mid-October that several former players confirmed Powell’s allegations, and multiple other reports cited unnamed sources who said the claims were at least partly true.

McGee, who played at U of L before becoming a graduate assistant and then the director of basketball operations, resigned from his job as an assistant coach at the University of Missouri-Kansas City at the end of October and has not publicly spoken about the case.

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The NCAA’s investigation is not complete, but Ramsey said U of L “became aware of information” that confirmed the basketball program committed a violation of NCAA rules.

The university considered waiting to take action, Ramsey said, but after reviewing the NCAA’s penalty structure, he decided self-imposing “was certainly in the best interest” of U of L and its men’s basketball program.

Ramsey said there are no other forthcoming penalties or related personnel changes being made by U of L.

In a statement, ACC commissioner John Swofford said he supported U of L for taking a “proactive” measure.

“This is a very significant step for an institution when the case is not concluded,” said Smrt, who also worked with Ohio State and Oklahoma State during recent investigations involving their football programs.

ACC commissioner: U of L's move 'proactive'

But, Smrt said, the decision also “handcuffs” U of L because it cannot release, nor are any officials allowed to talk about, any of the information that prompted the school’s choice as long as the investigation is ongoing.

“When a school takes action while the inquiry is ongoing, it shows decisiveness. It shows the integrity of the institution,” Smrt said. “We’re bound by NCAA bylaws of what can be said.”

Jurich said he informed Pitino of Ramsey’s decision Thursday evening.

“When these allegations first broke, we said, along with consulting Coach Pitino especially, if there’s some wrongdoing, we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” Jurich said. “We want the truth and we will deal with it. We will own our problems. We found out (Thursday) that we had a problem that was verified by (Smrt) and the NCAA.”

Pitino repeated his surprise several times on Friday, saying “not in my wildest dreams” did he think Louisville would self-impose a postseason ban. His initial reaction was the fight the decision.

Yet he also acknowledged “where there is smoke, there’s fire.”

“I had second thoughts, but I put all my faith in (Jurich),” Pitino said. “It’s not for me to second-guess anybody.

“This is a decision that’s as harsh as anything I’ve seen, but I’m a soldier in this army, and I will go along with Dr. Ramsey.”