By Dalton Ray–
Ninety minutes after the NCAA’s Committee of Infractions decided on the men’s basketball sex scandal, coach Rick Pitino, Interim President Greg Postel, athletic director Tom Jurich, advisor Chuck Smrt and senior associate AD Kenny Klein addressed a room full of media members in Grawemeyer Hall.
Postel started the conference explaining how much U of L cooperated with the NCAA during the process, saying the university will appeal the NCAA ruling.
Smrt, a former NCAA enforcement staffer for nearly 20 years, has assisted U of L with their ongoing investigation since 2015. Expected to quarterback their process to regain good graces with the NCAA, the legal expert didn’t anticipate this type of punishment.
“The penalties exceeded our expectations … the severity of this penalty, we think, exceeds the severity of this case,” Smrt said.
Fielding the first line of questions, Smrt absorbed all questions about what the NCAA dished out.
“We imposed penalties what we thought were the guidelines directed by the NCAA in this type of case,” Smrt said. “That’s why we imposed a postseason band, obviously which was very significant. We imposed scholarship cuts, which were very significant. The additional penalties imposed by the committee are the ones that surprised us.”
After giving all the legal lingo one could, Smrt dropped the bombshell Louisville fans didn’t want to hear.
“At this time we believe (the vacation of records) could impact 108 regular season games and approximately 15 NCAA wins,” Smrt said.
Of the 15 postseason wins is the 2012 Final Four run and the 2013 national title.
Five minutes into the conference, Pitino made his first statement.
“For 35 years I’ve had a lot of faith in the NCAA and reacted that way accordingly as a head coach with belief in their rules,” Pitino said. “I feel, like everyone else up here, this is unfair, over the top and severe. But personally, I’ve lost a lot of faith in the NCAA.”
Pitino then said he would put his faith in the appeals committee and that U of L will win the process because it’s what is “right and just.”
When asked if Pitino thought this would hurt recruiting, he responded, “We’ve had the best recruiting class (this season) we’ve had in 16 years, and probably a better one next year.”
After Pitino answered questions for about five minutes, reporters asked Smrt for the logistics. Smrt indicated the appeal process would be a “back-and-forth” situation which will last around three months.
Players’ ineligibility was the next topic, as Smrt explained how players can become ineligible. That status would remain until the player(s) are reinstated or their eligibility runs out. This is an argument for the U of L appeal.
“One of our basis for our response for the vacation not being appropriate was if these athletes would have gone through the restoration process at that time, they would have been restored without loss of eligibility,” Smrt said.
Smrt said the COI justified its penalties by the nature of McGee’s benefits, while U of L believes the value of those benefits should be penalized.
One of the more intense exchanges in the 30-minutes press conference was when Pitino was asked what he is taking responsibility for in this scandal.
“I’m not going to answer that question,” Pitino said.
Moments later, Pitino said he takes responsibility for the program and leading his players and staff down the right path.
“I’ve had 31 coaches go on the be head coaches in college as well as assistant coaches in the pros — some of the best leaders in the game. One person did the wrong thing,” Pitino said.
Included in the NCAA’s penalties, Louisville must pay back any shared money from 2012-2015 postseason tournaments. U of L did not have estimates for how much that is at the time of the conference.
In a conference dominated by Smrt and Pitino, Jurich made his first statement 17 minutes in. The AD expressed how much U of L means to him and said he didn’t see this punishment coming.
“I thought we did everything above and beyond when we found out about this incident. My greatest disappointment is with the (NCAA) because we followed their guidelines to a ‘T’ and exceeded in most positions,” Jurich said. “We were overly aggressive in penalties we gave ourself and wanted to make sure we took this very seriously and responsibly. Not one time did I ever hear about a red flag.”
Whether more than one staff member knew what was going on between players and strippers is a huge part of this case. According to the NCAA’s findings, there was no evidence anyone aside from McGee knew about the situation.
Pitino ended the conference with a statement. “Leaders lead. I plan on staying here and winning multiple championships, not just one. I plan on going to multiple Final Fours, not just one. And that’s what leaders do,” Pitino said.
“We did not deserve what they gave us and that’s the bottom line. (The NCAA) made a very large mistake … we are just as disturbed as the committee is about the situation and we will fight every bit of it to the end.”
The saga surround the men’s basketball program began fall of 2015, and many expected the end to come today. But with the NCAA’s ruling, a third chapter appears to be coming.
Photo by Dalton Ray / The Louisville Cardinal