Madison Doucette

Tom O'Leary

After 16 years as the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Louisville (UL), the turbulent tenure of Rick Pitino has finally concluded as he was terminated by the college on Oct. 16.

Pitino’s coaching talent has never been in question. Before being hired at UL he led Providence College to the final four of the NCAA tournament, won a national championship at the University of Kentucky, and had brief stints leading both the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics at the professional level. At UL, he became the first of his craft to win a national championship at two different institutions in 2013, while also being enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame the same year.

Although Pitino’s resume is certainly deserving of such a distinguished honor, his career, especially at UL, has been rife with scandal and controversy.

The first of his many public indiscretions came to light on Apr. 18, 2009, when Pitino announced that he was the target of an attempted extortion by Karen Sypher, the wife of a UL equipment manager. Six days later Sypher was arraigned and charged in US District Court with extortion and lying to federal agents.

During the trial, Pitino, a married man, revealed during his testimony that he had sexual relations with Sypher at a restaurant six years prior. Pitino downplayed the incident, stating that the entire act “took no more that 15 seconds.”

Despite the reported brevity of their interaction, Sypher became pregnant and claimed the child was Pitino’s. He then paid her $3,000 to travel out of state and have an abortion. Sypher carried out the agreement before attempting to extract additional money as well as cars from Pitino.

Eventually, Sypher was sentenced to seven years in prison and Pitino issued a public apology but was allowed to keep his position at UL.

The following six years were mostly quiet, and very successful for Pitino and his squad until a whistleblower named Katina Powell came forward with allegations that UL had provided its players and prospective recruits with adult entertainment and sex-for-pay.

Powell appeared on multiple national media outlets and wrote a book detailing how an assistant of Pitino’s named Andre McGee periodically contacted her over the course of four years when the college had particularly high-profile prospects on-campus for official visits. McGee would then pay Powell and other women she brought with her, including her own daughter, to perform various sex acts for the players inside a dormitory. Powell stated that two coaches also participated, and that 7-10 of the recruits were under age at the time.

How Pitino was not fired as a result of the UL prostitution scandal is an act of pure wizardry. He always prided himself on having complete control of his program, but plead ignorance to the entire controversy and effectively blamed it all on McGee who was swiftly fired. As a result, Pitino was suspended a measly five games while his program was given four years of probation and was stripped of all basketball records in which ineligible student- athletes had played in from 2010-2014, in addition to the self-imposed 1-year postseason ban and $5,000 fine.

Ultimately, Pitino would never serve his minute suspension, as his rocky marriage to UL was faced with the final storm that led to their inevitable divorce. On Sept. 26, 2017 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)arrested 10 people involved in an ongoing pay-for-play corruption scandal with UL’s primary athletic sponsor Adidas.

The FBI alleges that UL, as well as the University of Arizona, Auburn University, the University of Miami, Oklahoma State University, the University of South Carolina, and the University of Southern California all were complicit in the scheme with Adidas. The company reportedly paid the families of elite recruits upwards of $100,000 to play at one of the aforementioned schools. It was understood that Pitino and the other coaches would then help Adidas sign the players to endorsement contracts once they became professionals.

The next day, UL placed both Pitino and Athletic Director Tom Jurich on administrative leave. “These allegations come as a complete shock to me,” said Pitino through his attorney. “Our fans and supporters deserve better and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable.”

UL must have taken Pitino’s statement to heart, as they held him accountable by firing him as soon as they determined he was responsible. He is now in the process of suing the university.

Although several of Pitino’s colleagues have gone on the record saying they would hire him again to revive his career, it’s hard to envision a basketball organization at any level that would be willing to confront the public relations nightmare his employment would generate. That being said, it certainly wouldn’t be the most surprising or disgraceful move a team has made in the name of winning and money.