U of L to impose new sanctions on hoops team

Jeff Greer
Louisville Courier Journal

The University of Louisville will impose more punishments on its men's basketball team amid an NCAA inquiry into the program, the school announced Wednesday.

In addition to the self-imposed postseason ban for the hoops program for this past season, U of L will also place several sanctions on its recruiting capabilities in the coming years.

The school announced that it would reduce the team's scholarships by two – one for the 2017-18 season and one for 2018-19; limit the staff's days on the road for recruiting; and cut official prospect visits by two – one this coming season and one in 2017-18.

The school said it would be a 24-percent reduction in recruiting opportunities. U of L's staff plans to stay home for the upcoming evaluation and recruiting periods this month, a source confirmed to The Courier-Journal, and will likely miss some days in July as well.

The announcement of the new penalties is not in reaction to any new findings in the NCAA or U of L investigations, a source told The Courier-Journal.

"Although the investigation is ongoing, the university has elected proactively to self-impose certain penalties consistent with NCAA legislation, including withholding the men’s basketball program from post-season competition this year," the school's statement said.

"We just have to dig in and work harder and smarter" with recruiting, Louisville coach Rick Pitino said via text message.

The announcement fits in with what many experts on NCAA compliance investigations expected to be the next step in the process for U of L, which has been conducting its own internal inquiry, led by compliance consultant Chuck Smrt.

The NCAA has reportedly met twice with Katina Powell, the author of a book claiming a former U of L staffer, Andre McGee, paid Powell and other escorts to have sex with players and recruits.

Smrt and U of L compliance officer John Carns met with Powell's coauthor, Dick Cady, and her publisher, Pat Keiffner, in October to discuss the book's allegations.

Pitino is reportedly expected to meet with NCAA investigators this month, though U of L sources are still unclear as to when that will be.

The school said U of L president James Ramsey "received input" on the new sanctions from Pitino, Smrt, athletic director Tom Jurich, members of U of L's investigative committee and the school's outside legal counsel, Steve Thompson.

"Like the decision on the postseason ban, the decision to impose these penalties was difficult and reached through a collaborative process," the school's statement said.

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U of L NCAA inquiry could take a while longer

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Thompson, who works for Nixon Peabody LLP and serves as U of L's NCAA compliance and infractions counsel, said in a statement that self-imposing penalties now "is appropriate."

The timing likely was intended, at least in part, to provide an answer for questions about why Pitino and his assistants were not on the road recruiting in the coming months, sources told The Courier-Journal.

"While the university could elect to wait until the infractions process is complete, those consulted agree that these penalties are consistent with NCAA legislation, and imposing these penalties now is the right thing to do and may advance the university’s goal of expediting resolution of this matter," Thompson said in the release.

Louisville still plans to fill its open scholarship for the 2016-17 season, and the Cards' staff is exploring options on the transfer market, both traditional and graduate transfers, as well as high school seniors.

The reduction for the 2018 class leaves U of L with seven scholarships to give in that class, though that number will obviously fluctuate as players come and go over the next two years.

Several NCAA compliance experts have suggested more penalties may come when the NCAA concludes its investigation and compares what the organization terms "the facts of the case" with U of L's investigators. The most common suggestion is that Pitino may have to sit out some games next season as part of the punishment, in the same vein as Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim or SMU coach Larry Brown as their programs came under NCAA investigation.

Louisville's Rick Pitino during the game against Boston College Feb. 6, 2016. Pitino said in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he and others at the university will be "vindicated" when the NCAA completes its investigation into the men's basketball program.