Rick Pitino is out, and the rest of college basketball is sweating

Rick Pitino in happier times. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The first sentence of Rick Pitino’s Wikipedia page – and his is a bio that has undergone many revisions – got rewritten Wednesday. He’s no longer the coach who was fastest and first to grasp the power of the 3-point shot. He’s no longer the man who lifted Kentucky from purgatory. He’s no longer the only guy to have won national championships at separate schools.

Yes, he’s technically still all of the above, but that won’t be the first thing we think about when we think about Rick Pitino. He will come to be known as the first giant to fall in an investigation that could well to turn college basketball inside out. We see already the speed at which this is traveling: Within 24 hours of a sobering news conference in Manhattan, Pitino — a Hall of Fame coach at one of the nation’s half-dozen biggest basketball schools — had been placed on unpaid leave, dismissal soon to come.

Louisville kept Pitino after the seamy Sex in a Restaurant case. It stuck with him after the even more sordid Strippers in the Dorm affair. But after seeing its name – actually a code name: “University-6” – in the feds’ finding, the school that would put up with anything gave Slick Rick the gate.

Louisville, see, is terrified. This isn’t the toothless/clueless NCAA doing the sleuthing. This is the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office. These folks have subpoena power. These folks can put people in jail. These folks have the wherewithal to fund electronic surveillance and confidential informants and undercover operatives, all of which were used to make this case. The feds could pick Louisville clean and leave the buzzard NCAA to pile on – and Louisville already is on probation, which means one of the sport’s tent poles could be eligible for the death penalty.

But it’s not just Louisville that’s shaking in its, er, sneakers. It’s all of college basketball. We’ve known for years that apparel companies, via the tax-exempt AAU, hold inordinate sway over recruits. The feds just illustrated how this actually works. It alleges that the family of Brian Bowen, a recruit from Michigan, was paid $100,000 by Adidas to direct him to Louisville, an Adidas school, and then to cast his lot with the company as a professional.

Shoe companies fund AAU teams, same as they outfit college programs. A couple of years ago, Pitino spoke – prescient, he was – of how ridiculous it was to be told he couldn’t recruit a player on “the Nike circuit” because Louisville was contracted to Adidas. And it does sound silly. But it’s the way of the hoops world.

As ESPN’s erudite Bob Ley said on “Outside The Lines,” the shoe companies are investing in “a futures market.” They’re all looking for the Next Michael, the original having made Nike a global colossus, or the New Steph, whose switch from Nike to Under Armour turned an earnest striver into a major player.

Four college assistant coaches – Auburn’s Chuck Person among them – were arrested Tuesday on charges of fraud and corruption. (The other three work at Oklahoma State, USC and Arizona.) The feds allege that these coaches took money from agents, investment companies and shoe companies to steer players their way. Three men associated with Adidas, the head of global marketing included, also were arrested. The worst the NCAA can do is hit you with a show-cause sanction; the feds can lock you up.

The feds can go – heck, have already been – where the NCAA could not. The feds can nail you for wire fraud. The feds can make you sorry you were born, and if you’re sorry enough, you might be inclined to turn state’s evidence, which takes us deeper into the mire. This will sound like hyperbole, but it probably isn’t: When the feds get done, college basketball as we know it might have ceased to exist, which mightn’t be a bad thing.

Louisville just signed a $10-year extension with Adidas – for $160 million. The Courier-Journal reports that athletic director Tom Jurich’s daughter recently took a job as an Adidas brand manager. In other news, Tom Jurich was placed on paid leave Wednesday pending certain dismissal. He’s the man who brought Pitino to Louisville, and he goes out having reaped the rewards but ultimately the whirlwind.

As we speak, every president is asking every AD to ask every basketball coach, “Could we be in trouble with this?” Because every school has a shoe contract, and every coach wants the best players, and every good player has an AAU (and therefore a shoe company) connection. The stewards of Georgia Tech are surely wondering about the wisdom of signing with Adidas. There’s not a major university with a gym that isn’t treading lightly today.

Sometimes we hear of an NCAA investigation and proclaim doom for a program – think Miami in the Nevin Shapiro case – but doomsday never comes. We say again: This isn’t the NCAA. These are the feds. It takes Mark Emmert a week to form a coherent thought. It took less than a day after acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim stepped to the microphone for a giant to be toppled. (The feds work faster than FedEx.)

I’d like to tell you I know where all this will lead, but there’s really no knowing. I suspect it will be nowhere pleasant. I’m reasonably certain Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich won’t be the last casualties. If even half of what has been whispered about college basketball is brought to light, the NCAA tournament committee won’t have to worry about choosing a field of 68. There mightn’t be more than a dozen teams still eligible.

Reader Comments 0

30 comments
MaybeMaybeNot
MaybeMaybeNot

At least Mark Richt was a man of the Lord, and ran a program the way it should be run and was more concerned about turning boys in to men than turning UGA in to a football factory.  Amen. 

DawgNole
DawgNole

@MaybeMaybeNot

A major D-1 football program running "the way it should be run"--with virtually unlimited resources, top-notch facilities, and a huge, passionate fanbase--should claim more than ZERO national championships in 15 years.

Richt wasn't paid millions to be "a man of the Lord"; he was paid millions to win football championships. He failed.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

How long can college sports in general survive. Its about time a semi-pro league starts up for players wanting to turn pro without going through the college process. It'll take a business innovator to get it started. But as we have seen, college sports is a multi-billion dollar business. 

alittlecurious
alittlecurious

Thank goodness that UGA still doesn't have Jim Harrick coaching or the chances would be a lot greater that UGA would wind up involved in this mess too.

Honky4Herman
Honky4Herman

@alittlecurious Whew!  There is a silver lining to always being the SEC doormat in basketball.  We always suck, but at least we aren't being investigated by the FBI.  

JKToole
JKToole

@Honky4Herman @alittlecurious Mark Fox is the ONLY coach in UGA history to have 3 consecutive 20 win seasons. The Dogs have won 43 SEC games from 2013-2016; the winningest conference stretch in UGA hoops history.

And did it all clean. Perhaps this was accomplished against a lot of teams that weren't - Auburn, SC, FL, KY, TN come to mind.

Maybe time to take another look at his record?

Wrecker
Wrecker

@JKToole @Honky4Herman @alittlecurious Fox does not get enough credit for turning around a moribund team.  With all the talent in Georgia, U[sic]Ga should be very good in basketball every year.


In other news, a 3 point shot is still worth 3 points, so no need to change the test.

Classof98
Classof98

How long before ESPN hires Pitino (and Pearl after he is inevitably fired again)?

pbtidwell
pbtidwell

NO SURPRISE.  FOOTBALL MAY BE NEXT. CASH FOR PLAYERS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR A VERY LONG TIME.

GaJack1
GaJack1

Good job Mark....where will it all end? 

Peachs
Peachs

The schools that have problems with the NCAA are the ones who actually have a academic reputation to protect, and cooperate with these people. They get the slow ones like UNC and Tech, who have handicapped themselves by expecting a person carrying their name on Saturday to meet certain requirements. Jimmy Johnson made a point of bullying the Miami U. administration, and they put up with it as he had his enterprise there. And we put up with it, we are as much to blame as these sleek narcissistic people we let in the gate.

ShootinTheHooch
ShootinTheHooch

If there had to be one SEC school that was going to be involved with this mess, it would have to be the Barn. They wrote the book on how to deal with the NCAA during the Cam Newton fiasco...thumb your nose at the paper lion knowing that without cooperation they have nothing on which to make a case. Thumb your nose at the feds and people can go to prison.

TideDawg
TideDawg

Maybe the Louisville players should protest. It seems to work with the media supporting anti American protests.

Gojckts1
Gojckts1

Why would Tech regret signing with Adidas? I'm pretty sure by the end of all this all apparel companies are involved...greatly.

ga4boats
ga4boats

Well if you arn't Kentucky or Duke, you have to pay to play sometimes (I do exclude some good guys like Michigan and Michigan State from this list as well as scrappy coaches that can get max results from two and three star rated players like Huggins).

TOJacket
TOJacket

Loved the "Buzzard" NCAA...good one MB

DoubleSubject
DoubleSubject

We would like to believe that “the fed” will be really tough on these guys, but “the fed” is toothless lot of underpaid and overworked government officials burdened by a maze of rules and regulations.

Prison for those found guilty is almost out of the question.

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

The indictments are the result of  2 year undercover investigation.  This one is going to get bloody. 

1980-was-so-long-ago
1980-was-so-long-ago

"Georgia Tech are surely wondering about the wisdom of signing with Adidas."


Worried about what????


What does this question mean???


GT isn't even active with Adidas yet? 

Nobodysshowmonkey
Nobodysshowmonkey

Don't be shocked if Bruce Pearl of Auburn isn't involved in this. His assistant, Chuck Person, was one of those arrested and Bruce has a rather shady past himself.

Soybean Bob
Soybean Bob

It is such rich irony that Petino and Petrino are so similar in spelling... ah the similarities do not stop there.. finally slick Rick is done... really done.. even southwest UNLV mining school wouldn't touch him.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Soybean Bob: "It is such rich irony that Petino and Petrino are so similar in spelling."

______________

It's "Pitino," but hey, what the hell--both names end in "o."

MauryL
MauryL

There is no longer a death penalty in college sports---the worthless ncaa got rid of that years ago. L'ville will get a slap on the wrist---the crooked pitino and their AD jurich will get millions in buyout cash, and quickly find other jobs paying more obscene money.

BTC
BTC

Why are the other three head coaches still employed?  Do they have a get-out-of-jail-free card that Pitino had already cashed in earlier?

TheBeas
TheBeas

@BTC Did you not read the article? Petinio cashed his get out of jail free card with the Louisville brass several incidents ago