The House of Cards Pitino Built: Louisville Lessons for Coaches and AD’s

Last week’s NCAA decision to sanction Louisville for hosting prostitution and stripper parties in its basketball dorm was more than a sex case, though you couldn’t tell that from the decision issued by the Committee on Infractions.


Like the 1930’s-era Chinatown cops known for (as Jack Nicholson quipped in the movie) arresting Chinamen for “spittin’ in the laundry,” the NCAA ended up fiddling and diddling on some small stuff. But their Louisville decision has some important lessons for coaches and athletic directors:

Lesson #1: If you are a head coach, write the words “Bylaw 11 Vicarious Liability” on a strip of duct tape and stick it on one corner of your laptop screen. Bylaw 11 is out to get you. Pitino got off easy, with a ‘spit-in-the-laundry’ penalty, but he still took a hit. As a head coach you are, Bylaw 11’s VC policy pronounces, presumed responsible for NCAA violations committed by your underlings. Don’t forget that.

Lesson #2: The entire NCAA reporting system is built on the duty to ‘self-report’.

Everyone – school, team, coach, assistant coaches, staffers – has a duty to ‘self-report’ violations to the NCAA. And when the new Bylaw 11 mandated in 2013 that the head coach “monitor the activities of all assistant coaches and administrators who report directly or indirectly” to him, and declared that the head coach is “presumed to be responsible” for his subordinates’ actions, it radically changed that duty to self-report.

Lesson #3: ‘Presumptions’ about your head coach responsibility can be rebutted by evidence. Bylaw 11 didn’t require that assistants wear body cameras at all times; instead, it should have, as of 2013, moved every head coach and AD to radically change their system, to build a culture which – the coach and AD should later be able to prove — commands underlings to self-report every possible violation. If the coach can prove that he has properly monitored and has created such a ‘report-everything’ culture, then he cannot be held responsible.

Lesson #4 – Do Not Duplicate the Rick Pitino/AD Tom Jurich Bylaw 11 Train-Wreck:

The two men at the top of the Louisville athletic juggernaut never came close to rebutting the Bylaw 11 presumption. The culture they created was so off-the-rails, in fact, that the NCAA didn’t even need Bylaw 11’s presumption to bag them.

The primary issues presented to the COI were: 1) what in hell was Director of Basketball Operations Andre McGee thinking of when he repeatedly, over several years, held those prostitute sex parties for players and even minor recruits in the basketball dorm?; and 2) who let him get away with all that?

The most damning, almost comical COI findings on these issues are here:

[Pitino] stated in his interview that it was the assistant coaches who monitored the former [McGee’s] activities with visiting prospects. However, three men’s basketball assistant coaches … all denied that their duties included monitoring the former operations director. According to former assistant coach 2, “everybody assumed that everybody was doing the right thing.”

This is the kind nonsense which was prattled by every Enron employee once that scandal blew, or by every Patriarca mob family member, once the feds started peeling back the layers. “It Ain’t Me, Babe” is the tune Pitino sang – and then all his assistants sang the very same tune. Imagine for a moment: the testimony of the head coach of the most profitable, highest-grossing basketball program in the country squarely conflicted with the testimony of his own top three assistants, on a principal issue as to what the four men’s respective managerial duties were! Then compare: what if one Pitino’s players, throughout a four-year career, repeatedly wandered confused and aimless about the court, each time the team deployed Pitino’s meticulously-managed and wildly-effective full-court press. How plausible is Pitino’s claim of lack of well-defined individual duties, and lack of Pitino oversight, direction, knowledge and management?

But there’s more. McGee actually resided 24/7 in the player’s basketball dorm. But no one could agree as to what McGee’s job title and duties were. Was he, as Pitino laughably claimed, just a “Liaison” to the university’s Housing Department? Was he a “Watchdog” of some kind and, if so, for whom was he “watching”? Was he in charge of the basketball dorm? Or was the Resident Assistant (an employee of the school) in charge of the dorm, as Pitino claimed? (The COI even got turned around on this issue, concluding — contrary to all evidence — that McGee was a ‘peer’ of the players.)

It was, the Louisville witnesses and testimony would have us believe, a Keystone Kops operation, with no one in charge, and no clear-cut lines of authority or job duties. The claim was so outlandish that it amounted to repeated ethical and oversight “flopping” by Pitino, for which he should have been ejected – followed by an explicit COI finding that the operational negligence, if not pandemonium, in the Louisville athletic operation was the result of, not collective incompetence, but artifice and planning, and that McGee’s de facto primary function was as Chief Subverter of Self-Reporting.

Lesson #5: If you hire a Watchdog, or Housemother, or Resident Assistant, or Peer, or Director of Basketball Operations to oversee your players, define his job in detail, in writing.

Lesson #6: Every head coach, AD, and school should have in place the following:

a) Written Organizational Chart: a detailed and consistently updated snapshot, showing job titles and lines of reporting responsibility;.

b) Written Job Descriptions: detailed descriptions of job duties, areas of responsibility, with explicit statement of the nature and timing of required reports;

c) Periodic instructional emails to staff, which include reminders about major NCAA reporting and other duties.

d) Periodic audits, followed by written reports, conducted by both: i) In-house compliance staff, employed by the athletic department; and ii) ‘Out-house’ compliance staff, employed by the university, who report to the school’s president, not the athletic department. Some of these Out-house compliance audits should be randomly-timed, and unannounced.

e). Detailed written policies which outline all direct oversight and reporting obligations.

f) Frequent other meetings. These should include what physicians and hospitals have long called “Morbidity and Mortality” meetings, where compliance, reporting, or NCAA violation shortcomings or screw-ups are named, vetted, and remedied.

The above simple set of documents and practices are the kinds of evidence which – had they existed at Louisville – would have allowed Pitino and AD Jurich to paint a picture of diligent self-reporting up a well-defined chain of command, sufficient to avoid the Vicarious Liability which the NCAA assigned to Pitino.

Next: Six More Lessons from Louisville



About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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