Sullivan | Fallout felt from Lyle bombshell

Tim Sullivan
Louisville Courier Journal

You could hear a jaw drop Thursday morning in Louisville. You could feel fans going weak in the knees and slumped in the shoulders, drained of defiance, filled with dread.

At 10:42 a.m., CBS Sports’ college basketball “insider,” Gary Parrish, posted a story citing an unnamed source to the effect that former U of L recruit JaQuan Lyle had confirmed the gist of “escort queen” Katina Powell’s salacious allegations to representatives of the NCAA.

After days of denial and delusion about the purported sexual shenanigans at Billy Minardi Hall, after frantic fans and sycophantic media types had gone to exhaustive lengths to concoct conspiracies and discredit Powell’s “Breaking Cardinal Rules,” here was a headline that was going to be hard to explain away. Here was a key witness with no apparent agenda reportedly confirming misdeeds that could qualify as major violations of NCAA rules.

Pitino: Resigning would be 'cowardly way out'

Here was 6 feet, 5 inches of inconvenient truth, an Ohio State freshman turned informant with no obvious incentive to fudge the facts. Here was Trouble, with a capital T.

Howie Lindsey was in the middle of his show on 93.9 The Ville when the story broke, and to hear him absorbing its import live on the air was to imagine Marc Watney coming to as the only man on Mars.

Just six days after U of L basketball coach Rick Pitino had stood before the cameras, “disheartened” and “disappointed,” as if “my heart has just been taken out of my body and broken,” Card Nation’s foreboding had a firm basis.

Father sickened by Powell, daughter's role

Within hours of the Lyle bombshell exploding, the fallout could be felt the length and breadth of Floyd Street. Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy quickly floated the idea of U of L self-imposing an NCAA tournament ban to limit long-range recruiting damage. University President James Ramsey issued a statement of support for Athletic Director Tom Jurich that conspicuously omitted Pitino’s name. Then Pitino went on WHAS radio with Terry Meiners and vented about his missing vote of confidence.

“If I get the feeling that Dr. Ramsey wants me (to resign),” Pitino said, “I’d pack my bags and leave.”

As anchorman Ron Burgundy once reflected after a fast-breaking street brawl, “Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean that really got out of hand fast.”

Report: Lyle confirms gist of book claims

Where things go from here, most likely, is downhill. Ramsey was probably prudent in withholding blanket support for Pitino in the early stages of an unpredictable investigation – remember the premature absolution Ohio State’s E. Gordon Gee offered Buckeyes’ coach Jim Tressel? – but Pitino appears to have interpreted that act of political expedience as a deliberate slight.

Though he rejected the idea of resigning voluntarily as cowardly, Pitino might be out of work for five minutes before his phone would start ringing, and with his reputation mostly intact. Unless the NCAA can trace stripper/hooker subsidies directly to the head coach’s pocket, Pitino is probably looking at no more than the nine-game suspensions to be served by fellow Hall of Famers Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) and Larry Brown (SMU). For a coach with 10 years remaining on his contract, that would amount to a relative wrist slap.

Given his pugnacious and paternalistic management style, Jurich can be expected to back Pitino without reservation unless evidence were to emerge that he had direct involvement in paying prostitutes on behalf of players and recruits. Given the typical length of NCAA investigations, though, that could mean many months of wingman work.

Cady: Powell's claims 'pretty damn credible'

Though the NCAA has earned its reputation for excruciatingly slow infractions cases, the enforcement staff’s conduct in this instance suggests an uncharacteristic urgency and, perhaps, a more pragmatic approach than in years past. That NCAA investigators have already interviewed Lyle and LSU’s Antonio Blakeney, another former U of L recruit, would suggest an accelerated timetable as well as a strategic squeeze placed on players whose careers still depend on continued eligibility.

If U of L has determined that Lyle’s testimony and whatever other evidence has been unearthed will translate into significant sanctions, DeCourcy’s idea about self-imposed penalties may well be the wisest course. Better to start serving time now than to allow the threat of probation to ruin multiple recruiting classes.  Better to come to terms with probabilities than to continue banking on the escort queen being found out as a fake.

Tim Sullivan can be reached at (502) 582-4650, or @TimSullivan714 on Twitter.