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Pitino's defiance making things worse for Louisville

By Mark Story Lexington Herald-Leader columnist

Hindsight is purer than Superman's X-ray vision, of course, but the University of Louisville made two serious misjudgments in its "defense" to the NCAA of the Cardinals' men's basketball program in the "strippers/escorts for recruits" imbroglio.

That was evident Thursday, when the NCAA Committee on Infractions issued its report on the scandal. Pending appeal, the NCAA has placed Louisville on four years of probation; suspended Cardinals Coach Rick Pitino for five ACC games in 2017-18; and -- perhaps -- set the stage for Louisville to vacate its 2012 and '13 Final Four trips and the 2013 NCAA championship if it is determined those teams were using ineligible players.

As I noted in an October column, once Louisville adopted Pitino's claim that he did not know that former Cardinals director of basketball operations Andre McGee had allegedly financed strip shows and prostitution for recruits on 14 occasions from December 2010, through July 2014, it defied logic for Louisville to then vigorously fight against the NCAA charging Pitino with a failure to appropriately monitor his program.

If the head coach did not know about almost four years worth of exotic dancers and escorts servicing recruits and doing so mostly in the Louisville men's basketball dormitory, well, the failure in monitoring the program was fairly catastrophic.

Pitino would have been far better served in the court of public opinion -- and perhaps before the NCAA -- had he said "what happened here should never have happened and, as the person in charge of the program, I am willing to accept an appropriate personal punishment because it happened on my watch."

Instead, Pitino portrayed himself as a victim of McGee -- rather than as the failed supervisor of his former point guard -- and Louisville adopted that narrative.

That stance did not play well nationally. More importantly, the Committee on Infractions was not buying it. "The head coach failed to meet his responsibility to monitor the former operations director, and is therefore responsible for his actions," was the verdict rendered by the NCAA.

The second area where Louisville was misguided was basing its case for a lenient ruling on the relatively modest monetary amounts allegedly paid to secure the services of the escorts for the recruits.

Simply put, Louisville wanted the NCAA to base its ruling on the finances of each individual transaction rather than on the overall ethical implications of U of L "providing striptease dances and/or sex acts for 17 prospective and/or enrolled student-athletes," at least seven of whom were minors.

To its credit, the NCAA did not buy the argument that money spent to provide a hooker to a high school student visiting your campus is no different than a booster defying the rules by buying a recruit dinner.

"(The) panel considers other factors besides monetary value in determining the level of violations," the Committee on Infractions wrote. "In this instance, the panel need not ascertain an exact value of the activities. The nature of the violations themselves, without more, elevates them to Level I (the most serious). The types of activities that occurred in this case were repugnant and threaten the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model, regardless of any precise dollar value assigned to them."

Since the Louisville ruling was announced Friday, one other important thing has been learned.

For years, critics have derided the NCAA practice of retroactively "vacating" the wins/NCAA Tournament appearances of schools found to have violated rules.

Fact is, there is something sort of Soviet about an organization writing out of its official history events that millions of people know happened.

Yet, in the despair emitting from Louisville over the potential risk the Cardinals will vacate the 2013 NCAA title, we see the punitive power of removing official sanction from a school's athletic feats.

Nationally, there are several media voices proclaiming that Louisville's punishments are too light given the gravity of its sins.

Almost no one is saying that in Kentucky, however.

In our state, NCAA men's basketball championships are the coveted holy grail of all sports achievements.

With all the emphasis the University of Louisville has put on basketball across the decades, it has only three NCAA title banners flying.

To have to take a championship banner down -- the first school ever so penalized in men's hoops -- would be a searing punishment.

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