Amid Scandal, U of L Imposes Postseason Basketball Tournament Ban

Feb 5, 2016

Credit Rick Howlett / WFPL

The University of Louisville men’s basketball team will not participate in postseason tournament play this year.

U of L President James Ramsey, Athletics Director Tom Jurich and Coach Rick Pitino made the announcement on campus Friday afternoon. 

The self-imposed ban — which includes both the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournaments — is in response to ongoing investigations by the NCAA, the university and local law enforcement into allegations that former staff member Andre McGee hired an escort service to provide strippers and sex to recruits and players. Most of the alleged activity took place in the men’s basketball dormitory, Billy Minardi Hall.

Ramsey said after consulting with NCAA investigators, he determined violations had occurred. He said it was his decision to remove the team from postseason eligibility.

“While this was a difficult decision, it was made in the best interest of the University of Louisville,” Ramsey said.

“We know we have committed a violation, so we’re taking this action,” he said.

Investigator Chuck Smrt, who U of L hired to conduct an inquiry into the allegations, called the ban a “very significant step.” He said the case remains open, but because U of L had discovered an NCAA violation, they decided to act now.

He declined to comment further on specifics, citing the ongoing investigation. He said neither Jurich nor Pitino “know the specifics of the investigation.”

The NCAA could still impose its own sanctions on the team and school.

Jurich called the decision “sad” for U of L players.

“We support these actions,” Jurich said. “They’re going to be very painful as we know, but we will continue to move forward.”

Pitino, who briefed the players earlier today, said “painful” was an “understatement.” He said after he told the team, the players gathered around and hugged fifth-year seniors Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, who transferred to U of L for this season specifically to play in the NCAA tournament. This is each’s last year of NCAA eligibility.

U of L is ranked No. 19 in the AP poll and was expected to qualify for the tournament.

“They came here to go far in the tournament,” Pitino said of Lee and Lewis. “They’ve done their jobs. They’ve captured the imagination of their fans.”

There are nine games left in the season. Pitino called on U of L fans to attend the final four home games “in full force” to honor the players.

Pitino, who said he was not involved in the decision and shouldn’t have been, was surprised by the ban.

“This is a punishment I thought would never happen this season,” he said. “This is a decision that’s as harsh as anything I’ve seen. But I’m a soldier in this army, and I’ll go along with Dr. Ramsey, and there’s no one in life I have more respect for than Tom Jurich.”

The U of L men’s basketball program has been the focus of investigations since the publication of a book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules,” co-written by Katina Powell of Louisville, who says she provided the services over a four-year period, from 2010-2014.

McGee left U of L to become an assistant coach at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, but resigned after the allegations surfaced last year. McGee, through his attorney, has denied any wrongdoing.

Pitino has said repeatedly he had no knowledge of the alleged activity. On Friday, Ramsey said he supported both Jurich and Pitino.

Larry Benz, chairman of the U of L Board of Trustees, which oversees Ramsey, said he wasn’t aware of the self-imposed ban until “the 11th hour.” Trustees were briefed on a conference call 15 minutes before the official announcement Friday afternoon.

Asked whether Ramsey should face additional inquiry or sanctions from the Board of Trustees, Benz said it was too soon to tell, citing the ongoing investigations into the allegations.

“I don’t see any reason at this particular stage to intervene in something that is still ongoing,” he said.

Asked whether Pitino should resign or be fired, Benz said no. He added that he has faith in Jurich and Pitino’s leadership of U of L athletics.

Benz also said the allegations and the university’s response show that Ramsey’s administration is properly overseeing the athletics department.

“I have heard nothing that indicates in any way that we have any lack of institutional control over the athletic department,” Benz said.

Reaction to the decision rolled in via Twitter. Former U of L standout Russ Smith blamed the accusers.

“Those women just ruined those kids’ college experience as far as experiencing the NCAA tourney,” he wrote. “…[and] some media outlets are just as guilty.”

Former U of L guard Terry Rozier said on Twitter he was “sick and speechless … make them last 9 games hell for the opponent! We can’t be broken!”

Current fifth-year seniors Damion Lee and Trey Lewis were expected to speak with media at 6 p.m. Friday evening.