It was late March of 2013. I had been heavily invested in the N.C.A.A. Men’s Basketball Tournament until the day prior when my Ohio State Buckeyes were upset by Wichita State. So, I sat there, only a casual viewer, watching as Duke faced off against Louisville in the Elite Eight. Many of you may remember this game, as it was the game that featured Kevin Ware and what is easily the most gruesome sports injury I have ever seen on live television. Ware went out for a late contest on a Duke 3-pointer, landed awkwardly, and snapped his right shin clean in half, resulting in a horrid compound fracture. Ware laid there in unspeakable pain, teammates and fans could do nothing but shield their eyes. At home, I buried my face in a pillow so as to avoid having to see a replay of what had just occurred.
All the while, Louisville’s coach Rick Pitino, a man whose white suits put Colonel Sanders to shame, stayed calm. He watched over his player, making sure he received the proper attention, and when Ware was finally taken away, he could not help but hold back tears. Watching this, I was struck by how much Pitino cared about his players. He was their coach, their mentor, he spent hours every day with them, and now one of his players seemingly had everything he had worked towards ripped from him in a freak accident.
This image of Pitino has stuck with me. In 2015, when Andre McGee, a graduate assistant at Louisville, was found to have organized a sex-for-play scheme spanning from 2010 to 2014 in order to draw in recruits, I wanted to believe that Pitino was innocent. He cared about his players. He would never let something like this happen. When, as a result of this scandal, he was nailed with a five game suspension to start off the 2017-2018 season, it became a bit harder to believe that he was naive to the happenings at his school. And now, as the past few weeks have further shed light on his, and others, recruiting methods, I have lost all hope in Pitino’s innocence, and am beginning to further lose hope in college basketball.
In late September, Pitino was placed on unpaid administrative leave due to his ties to a newly discovered pay-to-play scandal. This scandal spans many college basketball programs, but its presence at Louisville has perhaps been the most publicized. The F.B.I.’s two year investigation into suspected recruiting violations reached its peak when ten individuals, including four coaches and one Adidas executive, Jim Gatto, were arrested late last month. The scheme involved shoe companies contacting coaches at schools and together, with these coaches, bribing players to come play at certain schools associated with the aforementioned shoe companies.
During the player's time at this school he would build up an allegiance to this company and hopefully, upon his entrance into professional sports, this allegiance would manifest itself in the player signing a deal with the company. While this scheme carried with it many smaller payments, two of the largest are a suspected $150,000 payment by Arizona’s Book Richardson to 5-star recruit Jahvon Quinerly, as well as a suspected $100,000 payment by Adidas’ Jim Gatto to 5-star recruit Brian Bowen in order to convince him to attend Louisville, to which Bowen committed earlier this summer.
Where does Pitino come into play in all of this? Allegedly, ex-agent Christian Dawkins was seeking money for Bowen to attend Louisville, so he contacted Pitino. Pitino, in turn, contacted Gatto and almost effortlessly got $100,000 from Gatto to Bowen. According to Jonathan Brad Augustine, the coach of an Adidas-sponsored A.A.U. team, Pitino possessed a dangerous amount of influence within Adidas, which he clearly used to his advantage.
Obviously recruiting scandals occur often within the world of college sports. Although this one may be in a class of its own. Typically the N.C.A.A. deals internally with these issues, but this time the F.B.I. is involved. This time serious jail time will likely be served. Maybe, finally, this scandal, unlike many others, will not be quickly forgotten. The potential for a landmark moment is at hand.
Will the N.C.A.A. finally take a long look at its practices and abandon its arguably irrational and antiquated ties to amateurism? Will its players finally be legally given a safety net as they sacrifice their well-being for a billion dollar corporation? Will the lies of Rick Pitino finally bring about change and allow financial protection for the players he convinced me he cares so deeply for? Only time will tell.