Rick Pitino is Innocent Until Proven Guilty

In what might be college basketball’s most controversial scandal since, err, the North Carolina academic controversy that crept up just a year ago, the Louisville Cardinals basketball program has been accused of having recruits and players provided with sexual activities with escorts and strippers during their campus visits from 2010-2014.

On the surface, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino looks bad in this situation. Real bad.

The first name to be brought up in a case like this is the head coach. That is completely fair, as the head coach is the face of every school’s basketball program. It is completely natural to ask, “what did the (insert head coach’s name here) know?” or “when did the (again, insert head coach’s name here) know about the situation?” It is completely okay to hold any head coach to a higher standard. It is completely understandable.

It is completely wrong to assume a head coach is involved or should have known about the unfortunate situation.

That is about the point we are at as a society, and Pitino is taking the brunt of the blame for a situation that we do not know whether or not he was involved in. In fact, there is zero proof that Pitino had any knowing about the situation, as escort Katina Powell’s all-telling book did not mention Pitino’s name one time.

It is clear that the sexual activities — which included recruits receiving money to give strippers for teasing, flirtatious actions, and even sex — did indeed happen at Billy Minardi Hall. Five former recruits and players went anonymous with ESPN’s Outside The Lines and confirmed what has been the university’s worst nightmare — the reports are actually true.

That is where Andre McGee comes in. The former graduate assistant is the villain in the whole ordeal, and there is no doubt that he was involved.

Being the star in Powell’s book was one helluva start for McGee, and what should be one helluva ending to his coaching career. McGee resigned from his assistant post at University of Missouri-Kansas City on Friday.

According to Sports Illustrated, Rick Pitino said that McGee — a former player of Pitino’s — has denied any involvement, but that is a pretty easy lie to sniff out. He might as well have a four foot long nose at this point.

He is toast, and burnt toast at that.

The multimillion dollar question: do the actions of a graduate assistant drag down the “lack of awareness” of the head coach?

Let’s use some common sense with what obviously went down under McGee’s watch. There is no reason Coach Pitino should have known that McGee was leading such events during the visits. Coaches nowadays are expected to know every single aspect of what is going on throughout campus, which is an absurd task for any person to complete.

The NCAA has used the term ‘lack of coach control’ to ruffle the feathers of coaches like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, and Southern Methodist’s Larry Brown in the recent year. This is a fairly popular term that the NCAA has used to avoid any other person taking the fall for big-time, successful head coaches.

Those three coaches have all gone through something quite different than what Pitino is going to have to deal with, though. Boeheim, Williams, and Brown all witnessed their respected program be handed down violations and sanctions because of academic misconduct. Academic misconduct can range from dishonest test-taking to coaches attempting to convince professors to improve an athlete’s grades. Whatever the specific case, academic situations are something a head coach of any university should know about before it turns into a misconduct situation.

Coaches know what classes their players are in. They know what grades their players are getting. They know whether or not their players are going to class. That, the knowing, is the reason coaches should receive the ‘lack of coach control’ statement from the NCAA. There are no excuses for a head coach to not know about a player’s academic situation.

Former Louisville player and recruit Terry Rozier backed up Pitino by telling Sports Illustrated, “Coach P [Pitino], as far as the dorm situations and visits, he’d go out to eat with the recruits and their parents. As far as after that, he wouldn’t know. … I can say his nose is clean.”

It is not like Pitino is a repeat offender either. It was just seven years ago when news first broke of Pitino’s affair with another woman. The news got worse when it was learned that the woman that Pitino had the affair with was trying to bribe Pitino into giving her money to keep her quiet. It was a classic blackmail case, but Pitino cooperated with authorities and school officials in the best way he could because he knew he screwed up in the first place. The woman would later be put behind bars for extortion, proving that Pitino did not take any money in exchange for her silence.

Paint the picture how you want, but the man has morals and holds himself to a high standard. He admitted his mistake up front and took responsibility for it. I would expect he do the same for this situation.

So, if the NCAA should not go after Pitino personally, how does the basketball program get punished?

For one, there is no doubt the program needs to be punished. A situation like this cannot happen without consequences.

Michael DeCourcy of Sporting News tweeted out a potential part to the solution that I liked a lot:

DeCourcy’s solution would punish the source of the problem, which was how the visits were going, but also not hurt the current team like a postseason ban would. It’s certainly a good step toward what will be an interesting case for the NCAA to handle.

What I can only hope does not happen at this point is the taking away of Pitino’s accomplishments, like, for example, wins. There is certainly more to this saga, and while nothing should be taken off the table yet, it would be indefensible for the NCAA to go after the head coach with what it has right now.

Maybe the eye of public opinion should think about that also, before it speaks out against a man that has not been proven guilty.