Column: Sex Scandal at University of LouisvilleOctober 28, 2015
In June, the U of L signed its men’s basketball coach, Rick Pitino, to a 10-year contract extension that kicks in next season. The 62-year old Pitino will be paid an average of $5 million per year in guaranteed salary plus $7.5 million in retention bonuses if he stays through the 2015-16 season. Pitino could also earn $250,000 per year in academic bonuses and an additional $500,000 in any year his team wins a national championship.
Life is good, at least financially, if you are a winning coach. And Pitino is among the winningest of this generation. His overall winning percentage as a head coach at four major universities stands at a gaudy .740, including a stint at U of L’s arch rival, Kentucky. After a brief but disastrous fling as coach of the NBA Boston Celtics, Pitino returned to the Blue Grass state to resurrect U of L’s program. In his 14 years at Louisville, the team has gone to the NCAA tournament 12 times and won a national title.
Universities are willing to suffer embarrassment if it comes from a winning coach because the wins come with a lot of cold, hard cash. U of L’s basketball program is annually among the most profitable in the country. In 2012-13, the most recent year for which financial information is available, the program netted the University $24.7 million despite Pitino’s bloated salary and benefits. Add in the additional recruiting and fundraising advantages that flow from those wins and Pitino is a bargain, at least financially.
But after an escort queen published a book that detailed strip parties and sexual encounters for players, recruits and others - all engineered and paid for by one of Pitino’s assistant couches – U of L should be asking itself this question: Is winning basketball games and making money worth the shame, ridicule, and embarrassment that comes from these sordid activities?
The recent revelations aren’t Pitino’s first association with unsavory actions. In 2009 he admitted to a personal sex scandal, the details of which were disclosed in an extortion trial against his female accuser.
Not surprisingly, Pitino denies any knowledge of the activities that took place at an athletic dorm. In fact, Pitino claims the allegations are false, despite ample evidence to the contrary. ESPN’s Outside the Lines has obtained phone and text messages along with documented evidence of payment from the coach. Former players and recruits have confirmed the escort’s accounts of events. Of course, Pitino worshipers and supporters will choose to believe his denials. For those with a more objective view there is only one conclusion: Individuals can lie, but evidence doesn’t.
Like most successful coaches, Pitino is a control freak. He is famously known for his maniacal attention to detail and his intimate involvement in his coaches’ and players’ lives, controlling such things as their schedule, weight, diet and wardrobe. It is incomprehensible to believe that he didn’t know what was going on across campus. But whether Pitino was aware of the shenanigans or not is irrelevant. As the head coach he should have known and is therefore responsible for the actions whether they occurred with or without his knowledge. The buck stops where the bucks stop: With Pitino.
It won’t make much difference to the NCAA, which is currently conducting an investigation of the basketball program, whether Pitino is telling the truth or not. You can count on sanctions being handed down against the University – sex with strippers surely qualifies as “extra benefits” – including one for lack of institutional control, which is unrelated to whether Pitino knew or didn’t know about the strip shows and sex parties.
But Pitino’s fate is really up to U of L. Should he be removed as coach, allowed to resign, or continue to do what he was born to do, coach basketball? The answer depends on your view of the alleged hallmarks of an educational institution: Honesty, integrity and ethics. If you think they’re merely words that are de rigueur on a website, but have no meaning, Pitino stays. If, like me, you think they’re words to live by, then Pitino goes - the sooner the better.