During his time with Louisville, the Cardinals basketball coach Rick Pitino has survived multiple scandals.
In 2010, he testified in a federal extortion trial involving Karen Sypher, who went to prison after trying to get money and gifts from Pitino in exchange for silence.
In 2015, the NCAA launched an investigation into a sex-for-pay scandal organized by former Louisville assistant coach Andre McGee that could force the Cardinals to vacate their 2013 national title and dozens of victories. For that, Pitino will serve a seven-game suspension this season. This all came after the school, hoping to soothe the NCAA and temper the sanctions, self-imposed a 2016 NCAA tournament ban.
Despite all this, Pitino kept his job.
But what was revealed Tuesday, if true, seems insurmountable.
The FBI arrested four prominent college basketball assistants from Oklahoma State, Auburn, Arizona and USC following an investigation surrounding a corruption scandal. Documents from the investigation cite an arrangement between an unnamed Louisville staffer, high-ranking Adidas official James Gatto and others to funnel $100,000 to the family of a recruit who committed to the university over the summer.
“Shortly after the agreement with the family of Player-10 was reached in late May and early June, Player-10 publicly committed to University-6,” the documents from the FBI’s investigation stated. Louisville revealed Tuesday afternoon that it is the unnamed “University-6” named by the FBI.
“[Louisville] is committed to ethical behavior and adherence to NCAA rules,” interim president Gregory Postel said in a statement addressing the FBI’s investigation. “Any violations will not be tolerated.” Pitino is not named in the federal documents. But he’s the sullied leader of a program in the FBI’s crosshairs.
If the FBI’s allegations are validated, Louisville has only one option: Remove Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.
Pitino is facing a federal organization that puts people in prison. That’s why his latest problem trumps the previous incidents tenfold.
“These allegations come as a complete shock to me,” Pitino said in a statement Tuesday night. “If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorneys Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville. Our fans and supporters deserve better and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable. But the FBI and the United States Department of Justice have come to clean up the sport and the mess made by Louisville and other programs.”
Joon H. Kim, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, made it clear in his news conference that his office is coming for anyone attached to the pay-for-play scandal and will continue to pursue additional indictments.
“It’s better for you to call us than for us to be calling you when we’re ready to charge you,” Kim warned.
FBI assistant director Bill Sweeney doubled down.
“We have your playbook,” he said. “Our investigation is ongoing. We are conducting additional interviews as we speak.”
Years from now, this day may go down as the most crippling moment in the sport’s history.
What happened Tuesday, and what is likely to follow in the days ahead, could flatten college basketball. Every team in America, including Louisville, is asking the same question: How do we distance ourselves from this? Louisville’s sex-for-pay scandal led to a fine, the loss of scholarships, a suspension for Pitino, a 10-year show-cause penalty for McGee, vacated wins and a self-imposed postseason ban. Imagine what the FBI — and the NCAA investigation that will follow — will do to the program. The result could change Louisville forever.
In the Sypher case, Pitino reacted as the victim of an extortion scheme. Sypher ended up with a seven-year prison sentence.
In the pay-for-sex scandal, Pitino repeatedly told anyone who would listen he never knew McGee had arranged parties with strippers and escorts for Louisville’s top recruits and players.
After each of those incidents, Louisville stuck with Pitino despite the damage to the school’s reputation and the NCAA penalties — and the possibility of more NCAA penalties.
His resume and stature in the sport helped him keep his job, too. Pitino has won two national championships, reached seven Final Fours and won 770 games. He’s in the Hall of Fame.
If you just judge Pitino on his college accomplishments, only Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has a more stellar resume among active coaches.
His history, and his personality, have convinced those in power and the fan base to stick with him.
This is about more than Louisville now. This is potential prison time for those involved. This is cash bribes, wiretaps and federal investigators, which were all used to uncover the major corruption. This is a six-figure bribe allegedly arranged by multiple people to lure an elite prospect to Louisville.
The teams listed today might not recover for decades, if not longer. The sport may never recover.
They don’t care about Pitino’s Final Fours and national titles.
And that might make this Pitino’s last scandal.