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Opinion: No surprise violations end Pitino’s career

Updated: 
September 30, 2017 - 12:05am

Rick Pitino said the allegations that eventually prompted his abrupt removal as the University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Wednesday came as a “complete shock to me.”

But few who have followed the career of “Slick Rick” from his days as a 23-year-old first-time assistant coach at the University of Hawaii in the turbulent 1970s or his subsequent controversies can really pretend to be surprised, stunned, flabbergasted or, yes, “shocked” by the latest controversy swirling around him.

Not when there is a track record stretching back 40 years from when the NCAA Committee on Infractions cited Pitino in eight of the 64 rules violations leveled against Hawaii, including allegations of attempts at misinformation and a cover-up.

The latest claim of innocence, given Pitino’s history of scrapes with scandal, rings so hollow as to recall the line from the movie “Casablanca” in which the heavily complicit Vichy prefect of police exclaims, “I am shocked — shocked — to find that gambling is going on in here!”

Now, federal prosecutors have accused two unnamed Cardinals coaches of earmarking money provided by the school’s shoe and apparel partner, Adidas, to secure two heavily recruited players.

So, the steadfast denials, especially from someone who has been known as a heavy-handed control fanatic about all elements of the programs he has run, come across as particularly disingenuous.

In its “confidential report No. 121,” in 1977, the NCAA noted Pitino — among others — “… acted contrary to the principles of ethical conduct inasmuch as they did not on all occasions deport themselves in accordance with generally recognized high standards normally associated with the conduct and administration of intercollegiate athletics in that their involvement in various violations in this case demonstrates a knowing and willful effort on their part to operate the university’s intercollegiate athletic program contrary to NCAA legislation.”

The episode cost then-head coach Bruce O’Neil his job and resulted in a two-year NCAA probation for the basketball program, sanctions that effectively took a decade for the Rainbow Warriors to crawl out from under. The penalties also carried an order for “permanent and complete severance of any and all relations” with UH’s athletics for Pitino and others.

Louisville is hardly the only school touched by charges this week, but Pitino, with his celebrated success (two national championships, 2013 Hall of Fame selection), highest salary ($7.7 million) and checkered past has become the featured figure.

The accusations come just three months after the NCAA took action against Pitino and the school for a case in which prostitutes were arranged for players and prospective recruits.

Pitino, who claimed innocence, was to have been suspended for five games of the Atlantic Coast Conference season.

Now, we wait to see how much of the money he was contracted to receive through 2026 will actually find its way into his bank account. Meanwhile, in addition to federal sanctions, there is the looming matter of what the NCAA might do to Louisville for trampling the rules.

For example, how many victories might the Cardinals have to vacate? And, the big one, what will be the status of their 2013 national championship?

Unlike Pitino, nobody should be “shocked” at what the fallout could be for Louisville.

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