Louisville appeals 'draconian' NCAA penalties in escort case
By GARY B. GRAVES
Louisville said the NCAA "abused" its authority when it disciplined the school for a sex scandal that could result in the loss of its 2013 national basketball championship.
The school also said in a 68-page appeal released Friday that the governing body imposed "draconian" penalties and ignored the school's self-imposed discipline. Louisville banned itself from the 2016 postseason after its investigation uncovered violations.
This is the latest step in a case that began nearly two years ago. Escort Katina Powell alleged in a book that former Cardinals staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers for sex parties with recruits and players from 2010 to 2014.
The NCAA said Louisville must vacate up to 123 victories in which ineligible players received improper benefits. It also suspended Louisville coach Rick Pitino five games for failing to monitor McGee.
Additionally, the school was placed on four years' probation and ordered to return money received through conference revenue sharing for appearances in the 2012 to 2015 NCAA's men's basketball championships. McGee, the former basketball operations director, received a 10-year, show-cause penalty from the governing body.
If Louisville's penalties are upheld, the school noted that it would mark the first time a Division I men's basketball title would be vacated.
Louisville's appeal cited bylaws which provide that the COI "may" vacate victories and require forfeiture of revenues upon determining that a student-athlete competed while ineligible. Both penalties hinge on the participation, the response added, are discretionary and could be deemed inappropriate if the student-athlete isn't culpable for misconduct and received a negligible benefit that could restore eligibility.
The appeal contends that the COI didn't follow those principles and penalized Louisville entirely because of McGee's "egregious" actions. While a severe penalty was required, the response disputed whether student-athletes' misconduct justified purging their records and returning money.
"The answer is no," the appeal said, adding that "no prior decision has ever imposed vacation or disgorgement because of extra-benefits or inducement violation of little value and no advantage. ...
"Imposing those penalties here would be grossly disproportionate to the conduct alleged to have rendered the student-athletes ineligible."
Pitino has denied knowledge of the activities described in Powell's book, which the NCAA Committee on Infractions called "repugnant." The Hall of Fame coach called the NCAA penalties "unjust and over the top in its severity" when they were announced on June 15.
The appeal also said the school acted swiftly upon learning of McGee's conduct and imposed severe penalties such as sitting out the 2016 NCAA Tournament despite being ranked 13th. Louisville also announced scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions for assistant coaches.
Though the NCAA accepted the postseason ban, it imposed further scholarship and recruiting restrictions along with suspending Pitino for five Atlantic Coast Conference games.
The COI was especially critical of Pitino and said he should have known about McGee's activities with Powell, whose book, "Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen" alleged that McGee paid her $10,000 for 22 shows at the Cardinals' dormitory from 2010-14.
The NCAA said in its report that Pitino "delegated responsibility for monitoring the former operations director to his assistant coaches, who later stated they were unaware it was their job."
Pitino and the school indicated that it will appeal his penalties.
Louisville's appeal also said the COI imposed "a more draconian set of penalties" than warranted and said it ignored corrective measures.
As a result, the response concluded that, "At a minimum, the vacation and financial penalties imposed in connection with the 2011-12 and 2012-13 men's basketball seasons should be reversed."
Updated August 12, 2017