Billy Reed: Until Andre McGee tells his story, ‘Strippergate’ may never end
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Somewhere, somehow, some time, hopefully while most of us are still alive, Andre McGee will tell his side of the scandal that culminated Tuesday with the announcement that the NCAA has stripped the University of Louisville not only of the 2013 national championship and various other victories, but of its dignity.
By all accounts, McGee, a member of Coach Rick Pitino's staff from 2012-15, was the Svengali who teamed with Katina Powell to put strippers with UofL players and recruits at various "parties" in Billy Minardi Hall, the basketball dorm named for Pitino's late best friend.
But was he? Did he really come up with this idea all by himself? Did he really pay the strippers out of his own pocket? Or was he only the middle man, following somebody's orders? Is it possible that he, too, could be a victim and somebody else the perpetrator?
Nobody knows because as soon as Powell's amateurish book about the alleged parties was published in the fall of 2015, McGee vanished, apparently upon the advice of Scott Cox, his attorney. Cox also is an avid UofL fan and chairman of the Arena Authority.
The only time McGee has surfaced was when ESPN found him in Kansas City, driving a cab. He refused to talk to the network's reporters and dropped out of sight again. Nobody, except perhaps his legal team, knows where he is. He might as well be in the federal witness protection program.
But someday McGee will tell his story to somebody. The fact that he has disappeared suggests that his story contains facts that might land him in jail. Or is he being paid off by somebody powerful enough to help him attain a new life far away from Louisville?
Until he talks, however, he is the fall guy, the villain, the dupe. His basketball life as Andre McGee is over. To ever coach again, he will have to become somebody else – a steep price to pay for something that may not even be his fault.
The facts of the case are unseemly, even "repulsive," as one NCAA official put it, but they do not merit the severity of the punishment. UofL basketball is hardly the first college sports program to provide recruits with sex. That doesn't justify what happened in Minardi Hall, but maybe the fact that it happened on campus, in a university-owned building, is what made this case different.
As unacceptable as they were, the stripper parties also didn't do much of anything to help the basketball program. None of the recruits involved came to UofL. The members of the team already were here and didn't benefit in any material way.
It makes you wonder how much Pitino's widely publicized affair with Karen Sypher impacted the NCAA Infractions Committee. If the committee felt a culture of sexual impropriety was being established at UofL, it makes the overkill a bit easier to understand.
When former UofL President Jim Ramsey announced in early February 2016 that the university was voluntarily withdrawing its men's team from the postseason because rules violations had been verified, it wasn't a matter of doing the right thing, as Interim President Greg Postel said at Tuesday's news conference.
It was simply a matter of trying to mitigate future penalties by making a show of cooperation with the NCAA. In fact, it was the wrong thing to do, because it was unfair to the 2015-16 team, which had a legitimate chance to make the Final Four. As it turned out, the ill-fated decision didn't get Ramsey the benefit of the doubt, or anything else, from the NCAA.
Embarrassing as it is that UofL now becomes the first team to vacate a national championship, that's more of a blow to the fan base's ego than anything substantive. It puts the NCAA in the position of revising history, which is not a good place for an organization allied with education to be.
Basketball historians always will remember who won the 2013 national championship, and UofL fans always will remember who won the games the program is being forced to forfeit. Once a game or a season is played, there's no going back to change the scorebooks.
Consider, if you will, what happened to Western Kentucky in 1971. The Hilltoppers made the Final Four, but were eliminated by Villanova in the semifinals. Later, when it was learned that both WKU's Jim McDaniels and Villanova's Howard Porter had signed on with agents before the season was over, the NCAA replaced the names of both schools with "vacated" in its record book.
It was silly then and it's silly now. Yes, the fans get their feelings and pride hurt. But time has a way of healing that. All that endures is the truth; revisionist history be damned.
The NCAA Tournament money that UofL is being required to give back to the NCAA, rumored to be as high as $15 million, turns out to be "only" $600,00 and change, so that's the good news, if you want to call it that. Money never seemed to be a problem under former athletics director Tom Jurich, but it certainly is now under interim A.D. Vince Tyra.
So, for all intents and purposes, "Strippergate" is over. But I'm reserving final judgment until I hear from Andre McGee. Maybe sometime he will get tired of living like a fugitive and decide to throw himself on the mercy of the public, revealing things that will put his actions –- and those of others -- into an entirely new light.
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.
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