For Rick Pitino, latest scandal may be one too many

Louisville basketball coach on unpaid leave

(CNN) - Three major scandals may prove one too many for famed basketball coach Rick Pitino.

Pitino, who has led the University of Louisville men's team since 2001, was placed on unpaid administrative leave Wednesday amid a widespread FBI investigation into fraud and corruption schemes in college basketball. Among the allegations: that recruits and their families received payments in exchange for committing to attend specific schools.

"While the investigation is continuing and no charges have been filed against the University of Louisville or any of its employees, the allegations are serious," University of Louisville President Gregory Postel said at a press conference. "Doing nothing would be a tacit endorsement of unethical and criminal behavior."

In a statement released by his lawyer Steve Pence on Tuesday, Pitino said the latest allegations came as a "complete shock" to him.

"If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorney's Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville," he said. "Our fans and supporters deserve better and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable."

The news could signal the end of Pitino's tenure at Louisville, where he won a national championship in 2013. Pence, Pitino's attorney, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the coach has been "effectively fired."

In a Hall of Fame coaching career Pitino also has led Kentucky to a national title and coached the NBA's New York Knicks and Boston Celtics. Still, he leaves behind a mixed legacy, combining an impressive coaching resume with several unseemly sex scandals.

Pitino managed to hold onto his job after a tawdry 2010 federal extortion trial and accusations in 2015 that an assistant coach paid for sex and stripper parties for Louisville recruits.

Federal extortion case

In 2010, Pitino testified that he was a victim in a federal extortion case involving a woman who attempted to blackmail him after an affair.

Pitino, who is married, testified in court that he had sex with Karen Wise once at a Louisville restaurant in 2003. Weeks later, she called Pitino to say she was pregnant, according to court records. Pitino testified that he gave her $3,000, which she used to get an abortion.

The woman later married Tim Sypher, who was the equipment manager for Louisville and a former personal assistant to Pitino.

In February 2009, a friend of Karen Sypher's left three voicemails for Pitino threatening that press reports could surface claiming that Pitino raped Sypher. Pitino denied the rape charge.

According to an affidavit, Sypher met with Pitino and wrote out a list of demands, including college tuition for her children, two cars and paying off her mortgage in exchange for her silence.

A criminal complaint against Sypher accused her of trying to extort Pitino, and she was found guilty in 2010 of several counts of extortion and lying to investigators and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Sex and stripper parties

In 2015, ESPN's Outside the Lines reported that former Louisville assistant coach Andre McGee had paid for sex and stripper parties on campus for recruits -- some of whom were under 18 -- from 2010-2014. ESPN reported that five former Louisville basketball players said McGee paid for strippers to attend parties.

The allegations were first made public in a book called "Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen," written by a self-described escort named Katina Powell and co-author Dick Cady.

Powell told ESPN that she was paid $10,000 to supply dancers for those parties. In addition, she said that McGee allegedly gave her cash as part of "side deals" to have sex with Louisville players, recruits and guardians on campus visits.

An attorney for McGee denied the allegations. Pitino, the head of the Louisville program, claimed that he did not know about the arrangements and said McGee should come forward and tell the truth.

"I don't know if any of this is true or not," Pitino told ESPN at the time. "There's only one person who knows the truth, and he needs to come out and tell the truth to his teammates, to the University of Louisville, to his fans and to his coaches that have taught him to do the right thing for years and allowed him to be part of something special here."

But Powell suggested Pitino had to know something about it.

"This is my theory," Powell said on ESPN. "Four years. A boatload of recruits. A boatload of dancers. Loud music. Alcohol. Security. Cameras. Basketball players who came in at will. You got players that are so loyal to Pitino. Who wouldn't be like, 'Hey, you know, we got dancers and sex and all that going on'? My thing is how could he not know?"

Amid an investigation, Pitino insisted he would not resign. "Someday, I will walk away in celebration of many memorable years but that time is not now," he said.

The scandal led to significant punishments for the basketball program and Pitino. In February 2016, Louisville placed a self-imposed ban on postseason play for breaking an unspecified NCAA rule.

In its punishment decision, the NCAA said it could not conclude that Pitino was aware of the activities, but did say that he "did not exercise sufficient oversight" of the program.

Pitino was suspended for the first five conference games of the 2017-2018 season, and the Louisville men's program was placed on NCAA probation for the next four years.


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