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Louisville escapes major sanctions in hoops bribery case

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LOUISVILLE, Kentucky. After five agonizing years, Louisville can finally look ahead.

An independent panel placed the Cardinals’ basketball program on two years of probation and fined it $5,000, but spared the school heavy penalties due to NCAA charges following a federal investigation into college basketball corruption.

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The Independent Liability Resolution Process (IARP) also declined Thursday to penalize former Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, who was initially cited by the NCAA for failing to create a climate of compliance. Chris Mack, Pitino’s successor fired in January, was also not fined for additional charges filed last year by the NCAA.

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“The panel views this decision as a rehabilitation of both coaches,” IARP senior panel member David Bank said in a conference call with reporters.

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Pitino, now an Iona coach, thanked the IARP for being fair and reaffirmed his commitment to the rules.

“So, I feel justified? It doesn’t matter anymore because it’s been five years,” Pitino said in a conference call.

Former Cardinals assistant coach Jordan Fair and deputy head coach Kenny Johnson, now a Rhode Island assistant, received a two-year court order for Level I violations. The IARP concluded that Fair “knowingly participated” in arranging a cash payment in exchange for a player registered in Louisville.

IARP, created to handle difficult cases, also limited recruiting visits to Louisville this school year and issued a public reprimand.

“We were hoping for a successful outcome from this process, and this is what we got,” Cardinals athletic director Josh Heird said at a press conference with Louisville acting president Laurie Gonzalez.

The IARP was created based on proposals from a commission led by former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2018 to reform collegiate basketball. The Board’s decision cannot be appealed.

Louisville was charged with a Tier I violation by the NCAA in May 2020 for an improper offer of employment and several Tier II violations. Pitino was accused of failing to create an atmosphere of compliance, a charge the IARP said was unfounded.

The NCAA case followed a federal investigation announced in September 2017 that involved numerous college basketball programs accused of giving illegal money to recruits. The school admitted that it was the subject of allegations related to the recruitment of Brian Bowen II.

Louisville was previously placed on NCAA probation due to a sex scandal. Thursday’s IARP decision ended the latest disciplinary case against the school, which has endured several scandals since 2015.

“The panel found that the organization and the coach were overly sensitive to compliance issues that arose immediately after the previous case,” Benk said.

The IARP also recently announced minor sanctions against Memphis in a similar case, signaling that the era of NCAA harsh penalties may be coming to an end and college athletes are now allowed to make money from their name, image and likeness. Kansas is still under investigation by the IARP as a result of a federal investigation, and this week it itself imposed a four-game ban on coach Bill Self, while affirming the program’s commitment to the Hall of Fame.

Cases related to the federal investigation involving Arizona and LSU are still pending before the IARP. NCAA vice president of hearing operations Derrick Crawford expects they will be completed by next spring or early summer.

In the Louisville case, federal prosecutors alleged that Adidas transferred $125,000 to a recruit’s family to force him to attend school. Pitino’s name was not mentioned in the federal complaint, and he was repeatedly denied permission or knowledge of any payments to the recruit.

Benk also denied NCAA claims that Adidas, as Louisville’s sportswear partner, acted on behalf of the school’s athletic interests.

“Our interpretation was that it was just an advertisement for their own brand,” Benk said. “Furthermore, the institution never requested recruitment assistance, in our opinion, was unaware of any assistance that the clothing company provided.”

Hall of Fame coach and athletic director Tom Djuric was fired following a federal complaint. This episode took place with Louisville on NCAA probation following a 2015 sex scandal in which a basketball team employee allegedly hired strippers to entertain recruits and players.

Louisville’s sanctions over the scandal included forfeiting 123 wins, including the 2013 Men’s Basketball Championship and a 2012 Final Four, both under Pitino.

In September 2021, the college sports governing body amended its Notice of Allegations of Violations committed by Mack in the 2020–21 season. The NCAA has accused the program of unacceptable activity and said that the Mac does not contribute to a climate of compliance.

Mack was fired in January after three-plus seasons and was eventually replaced by former Cardinals player and Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne. Mack’s final season began with a six-game suspension from the school for failing to comply with university rules regarding an extortion attempt by fired former assistant Dino Gaudio.

University officials denied the allegations and noted the coaching and administrative changes among their corrective actions.

The IARP decision ends a long period in which Louisville was strangled competitively, administratively, and financially. The Cardinals’ only NCAA Tournament appearance since Pitino’s departure came in 2019, and ever-changing coaching doors have limited Louisville in terms of hiring.

“Finally it’s over,” Heird said. “For five years, this program has been in a blur, whether it’s recruiting or just fans feeling its influence, staff, sports staff, university staff. To have it all filmed today. … It’s a relief.”

Louisville avoids serious sanctions in bribery case originally appeared on


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