Billy Reed: Changes required to rebuild reputation of 'University-6'
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Here in the city that's home to "University-6," as the University of Louisville is identified in a federal criminal complaint filed by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the feeling of devastation is exceeded only by anger and disbelief.
Already anxious and reeling over sanctions levied by the NCAA in a sordid case involving strippers and sex parties for recruits, the fans of Coach Rick Pitino's basketball program were left fumbling for words in radio and TV interviews. The general feeling was, "Again? What in the world is going on over there?"
The story that broke mid-morning Tuesday is far more serious than anything "University-6" has endured so far. The Cardinal program was implicated in an FBI sting operation that led to charges being filed against James Gatto, the director of global sports marketing for international shoe-and-apparel giant Adidas; four assistant basketball coaches at major programs; and five others identified as agents or contacts between the corporation and high-profile recruits.
It's arguably the biggest college hoops scandal since the point-shaving scandal that broke in 1952. The 10 arrested individuals, with perhaps more to come, are charged with bribery, fraud, corruption, money laundering and other crimes that could lead to prison time if they are convicted.
The arrested assistant coaches are Chuck Person of Auburn, Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State, Emanuel Richardson of Arizona and Anthony Bland of Southern Cal. By far the most familiar name on the list is Person, who was a hot-shooting forward at Auburn in the Charles Barkley era and until today was an assistant on the Tiger staff of Bruce Pearl, who was fired by Tennessee a few years ago when he admitted to lying about NCAA recruiting violations.
So far, nobody from UofL has been arrested or charged with anything. However, interim president Dr. Greg Postel conceded Monday that the school is, indeed, the "University-6" in federal documents. It is alleged that Adidas funneled at least $100,000 through a UofL assistant coach – "Coach-1" in the documents – to land a prized recruit who eventually committed in June.
It hardly takes a Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the recruit in question is Brian Bowen, who committed to UofL on June 3 in what Pitino characterized as a huge "surprise." He said an AAU coach contacted him about Bowen, and that the five-star player's family paid its own way for a campus visit.
While the FBI made it clear that the universities were victims in the scam, it's also the second time that a Pitino assistant has been accused of knifing his boss in the back. The catalyst in the stripper scandal, in which a woman named Katina Powell was paid to bring girls to sex parties in the basketball dorm, was Andre McGee, a former UofL player who was hired by Pitino after the end of his playing career in Europe.
In the federal documents, UofL "Coach-1" is caught on tape telling "Coach-2" that they must be extra careful in funneling the Adidas money to the prized recruit because the basketball program already was under such close scrutiny because of the stripper sex scandal.
+ NCAA expert Dr. David Ridpath weighs in on Adidas scandal
+ How basketball bribes allegedly worked at UofL, who was involved
+ Pitino weighs in on shoe wars back in 2014
+ Pitino in 2014 says UofL 'makes a lot of money through Adidas'
+ Who is UofL freshman Brian Bowen?
+ What we know about the FBI's investigation into UofL bribery claims
+ UofL fans fearing the worst
For Pitino, the latest scandal could well be strike three.
The first strike was his sexual relationship with Karen Sypher, which he brought to light rather than pay her hush money. Sypher was convicted of extortion and has only recently been released from prison. The second strike was the stripper scandal. Although Pitino denies knowing anything about the trysts arranged by McGee, and although there's no evidence to prove otherwise, the NCAA has ruled that ignorance is not a defense and penalized him for the violations committed on his watch.
(By the way, the outcome of that case still is pending, due to the fact that UofL and Pitino both have appealed some of the penalties levied by the NCAA Committee on Infractions on the grounds that the punishment exceeded the severity of the violations.)
The Adidas scandal probably means that Jurich, assuming his job is not in jeopardy, will have to find a new equipment sponsor. Of the 56 members of the so-called "Big Five" conferences, Adidas and Under Armour each have equipment deals with 11 schools, all the rest are allied with Nike. Only a few weeks ago, Jurich announced a new $160 million endorsement deal with Adidas that now seems to be in jeopardy.
Adidas was founded in 1949 by Adolf "Adi" Dassler, who made his reputation as a shoe entrepreneur by convincing Jesse Owens to wear his shoes at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Until 1947, he and his brother, Rudolf "Rudi" Dassler, were partners in a sports shoe company that sold more than 200,000 pairs of shoes annually in Europe.
But the brothers fell out, leading Adi to form Adidas and Rudi to start a rival company that became known as Puma. By the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Adidas and Puma were paying so many Olympic athletes under the table that it led to a major scandal and, eventually, the end of amateurism in the Olympics.
Until the mid-1980s, the American basketball shoe market was dominated by Converse. However, Phil Knight founded Nike, which hired Michael Jordan to endorse a sneaker line, and Nike quickly supplanted Converse. At some point, Adidas decided to make a run at Nike in America. Today Adidas and Under Armour are pretty much tied for a distant second behind Nike.
But Jurich's immediate problem is what to do about Pitino.
Even before the shocking revelations about the FBI sting operation, according to sources I trust, Jurich was being pressured by the administration to fire Pitino. Loyal to a fault, and convinced that Pitino had no involvement in the sex-party scandal, Jurich stood up for his Hall of Fame coach.
But now things have changed dramatically.
UofL's new board chairman, David Grissom, a longtime mover and shaker in the city's power structure, is a no-nonsense type who may seek a full house-cleaning of the athletics department. If Jurich tries to save Pitino, he will be putting his own job on the line.
Unfortunately for him, however, he may not have the clout he once enjoyed, due to the steady drip-drip-drip of scandals and other untoward incidents involving athletes. His former boss, ex-President Jim Ramsey, was forced to resign because of a scandal in the UofL Foundation. Even some of the school's most ardent and loyal fans seem ready for a change, and nobody's job is safe.
Jurich arguably has done more for UofL than any athletics director has ever done for a university. By hiring the best coaches available and raising the money for state-of-the-art facilities across the board, he single-handedly changed the landscape of the university and drove community pride to an unprecedented level. He has been a leader in promoting academics and non-revenue sports.
But now that UofL is dealing with the FBI instead of the NCAA, it's obvious that changes must be made for the sake of the university's reputation and future well-being. Exactly what those changes are, and how they unfold, will determine the future of "University-6."
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.
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