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Can Rick Pitino survive Louisville recruiting scandal?

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Rick Pitino has shown himself to be one of college basketball’s finest coaches. With two national titles and seven Final Four appearances, Pitino is in the upper echelon of his profession.

Most of that success came in the state of Kentucky. Of his 722 career wins, 587 came while leading either the Kentucky Wildcats or now their arch-rival Louisville Cardinals. He won an NCAA title at both schools.

With basketball practice fully underway, talk of Louisville’s first game against Bellarmine should be the focus. Instead, talk surrounding the Louisville men’s basketball team centers on women, and not in a good way.

In a recent book “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,” escort Katrina Powell tells the tales of drinking, stripping and sexual favors provided by escorts to potential Louisville basketball recruits. Powell alleges, and provides evidence, that this practice lasted four years during Pitino’s tenure.

She offers no concrete proof that Pitino personally knew of what was going on, but says “how could Rick not know?” That is a reasonable question, but before even going there, we should look at what we do know.

Powell has text messages and a wire transfer for $10,000 from Andre McGee, a former member of Pitino’s Louisville staff, to an escort for arranging a recruiting party complete with the wine, women and song mentioned above. McGee calls the allegations “false.”

Before going any further, parents reading this, especially those with daughters, should be outraged. Outraged, but not naïve.

Someone’s daughter is all too often used as pieces of candy as a lure to influence male behavior. To be sure, the candy is routinely offered voluntarily. But that does not make it right.

It is outrageous for a university athletic program to facilitate the use of someone’s daughter as a sex toy. How does this show a teenager that playing basketball for Pitino and the University of Louisville would be something swell for all concerned?

This kind of stuff is not exclusive to Louisville. Listen to former NBA and University of Michigan star Jalen Rose.

“What you see at a bachelor or bachelorette party is what happens on a recruiting visit,” said Rose, one of Michigan’s “Fab 5” recruiting class of the early 1990s. “As a 17-year-old kid, first off, if I’m not getting laid, I’m not coming (to that college). I’m not signing. I’m not coming.”

Rose’s remarks to the Detroit Free Press should be placed in full context. He later said he was describing his thought process as a 17-year-old, “not 42-year-old Jalen.”

Rose was heavily recruited by four colleges and the process, according to him, was similar, except the women at his recruiting parties were not escorts. The youngsters needed to turn on their charm to achieve desired results.

Even if Pitino was unaware of the specific activities of the recruiting parties, he does have a responsibility to know what is going on by those under his authority. Coaches are responsible for all aspects of the recruiting process. Responsibility includes accountability.

The coaching staff should also be mentors, not just to current players, but potential players on recruiting weekends.

Underage drinking?

Strippers?

Prostitution?

Louisville, and most assuredly other programs, are facilitating these types of illegal behavior. Hopefully, other schools will take a serious look at their own practices.

Calls are growing for Pitino to step down. If these revelations involved a coach with only a fair number of wins, the decision would have been made for him.

On Thursday, Pitino responded by telling supporters that McGee should say what happened. Pitino also said he “will not resign and let you down.”

It is too late for the latter and the time may be growing near for the former.

On Thursday, McGee resigned his current post as assistant coach at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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