A day after federal officials revealed an investigation into a widespread alleged kickback scheme in big-time college basketball, Rick Pitino, the University of Louisville’s head men’s basketball coach, and Tom Jurich, its athletics director, were both placed on administrative leave.
Greg Postel, Louisville’s interim president, during a Wednesday media briefing described Pitino's punishment as an unpaid leave. But a lawyer for Pitino told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the coach is "effectively fired." Jurich's leave is paid. An interim coach and athletics director will be named within 48 hours, Postel said.
"While this may be a dark day for the University of Louisville, better days are ahead," he said.
Louisville's Board of Trustees unanimously supported the action, its chairman said during the briefing.
Federal prosecutors announced corruption and bribery charges against 10 people Tuesday. Among them were an Adidas executive and four assistant or associate coaches at top-tier college basketball programs. The men, who have been arrested, allegedly accepted cash to steer recruits to certain financial advisers and agents. At least three high school students and their families allegedly were paid up to $150,000 to both commit to a university sponsored by Adidas and then sign with the behemoth sportswear company once they reached the professional level.
The high school prospects committed to two institutions not named in court documents. But those universities -- Louisville and the University of Miami -- were easily identified.
Both the U.S. attorney’s office in New York and the Federal Bureau of Investigation hinted Tuesday that the corruption was much more widespread than the charges they had announced. Federal authorities have set up a tip line related to the investigation.
“If you yourself engaged in these activities, I’d encourage you to call us,” said Joon H. Kim, acting United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. “I think it’s better than us calling you.”
Pitino has seen wide success as a coach. He led the University of Kentucky to a national title in the 1990s and did the same with Louisville four years ago.
But under his watch, the Louisville team was put on probation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association for a scandal where the former director of operations sneaked escorts into university residence halls to strip and perform sex acts for athletics prospects, some of whom were underage. The NCAA suspended Pitino for five games last season and vacated certain wins, including likely the Cardinals’ 2013 national title. The university intended to appeal the NCAA decision.
Asked whether Postel anticipated any further NCAA sanctions, including the death penalty -- shutting down the program at least on a temporary basis -- Postel said it was not "appropriate to speculate."
Pitino released a statement on Tuesday via his lawyer on the kickback scandal.
“These allegations come as a complete shock to me. If true, I agree with the U.S. attorney’s office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville. Our fans and supporters deserve better, and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable.”