As the Louisville men’s basketball program continues to go down, Rick Pitino is still pleading ignorance.
In the court of law, ignorance is not a valid defense for an accused person. The NCAA doesn’t operate quite that harshly, but in the wake of a scandal involving an assistant coach arranging escorts, the 2013 national title for Louisville men’s basketball was vacated on Tuesday.
A new, more wide-ranging scandal is set to hit college basketball, with the FBI involved in the investigation. As it relates to Louisville, alleged arranged payments to the family of Brian Bowen to procure his commitment led to coach Rick Pitino being let go for cause.
Pitino pled ignorance to the situation with former assistant Andre McGee arranging strippers for players and recruits. He also pled ignorance to anything regarding paying Bowen. During a radio interview, Pitino made comments on his remarkable good fortune regarding Bowen’s commitment to Louisville, which came (very late) on June 3, 2017.
"We got lucky on this one. I had an AAU director call me and ask me if I’d be interested in a great player. I saw him against another great player from Indiana. I said, ‘Yeah, I’d be really interested.’ They had to come in unofficially, pay for their hotel, pay for their meals. We spent zero dollars recruiting a five-star athlete who I loved when I saw him play. In my 40 years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve been."
After Tuesday’s news about the 2013 national title being wiped from the NCAA records, Pitino continued his plea of ignorance.
"I had no knowledge of the reprehensible things that went on in that dormitory,” he said. “If I hired the wrong people at times, I take full ownership and responsibility for everyone I’ve hired. I’ve hired some awfully great ones."
And in regard to paying players, Pitino doubled down on the ignorance plea again via a written statement.
"In 40 years of coaching, I have never been involved, directly or indirectly, in any effort to pay any money or extend any improper benefit to any recruit or any recruit’s family members or representatives,” Pitino said in the statement. “I knew nothing about any agreement to make improper payments, and had no reason to suspect any illegality in the recruitment of any athlete in my programs. I never engaged in any improper communication with anyone, or had any part in such effort — overtly, covertly, in code, through nuance, or in any other way."
Especially at the college level, coaches are control freaks. It’s hard to manage and motivate 18, 19 and 20-year-olds any other way, and Pitino’s success speaks in part to having his eye on everything. But as the proverbial … er, stuff is really hitting the fan at Louisville, he continues to offer pure ignorance as a defense. Not that anyone should expect different, especially now with the FBI bearing down on college hoops, but Pitino has to be held to a higher standard, and he’s not fooling anybody by playing dumb.