Louisville Men’s Basketball answered the charges levied against them in the NCAA Notice of Allegations today. Louisville is definitely meaning to put up some kind of fight. How successful it will be remains unknown, but they apparently won’t lay down as they did previously.
UofL has unilaterally undertaken several significant actions to ensure all who are involved in Cardinal Athletics fully support a culture of compliance. The University looks forward to the resolution of this matter. (3/3)— University of Louisville (@uofl) September 21, 2020
One of the main arguments Louisville is making is similar to an argument being made by Kansas. In essence, the argument is that Adidas and its representatives shouldn’t be considered a booster for the university. The idea is that Adidas was hiding their activities from the university and not working with or on behalf of it.
Of course, the NCAA will point to Jordan Fair and say he was aware of Adidas’ activities and tacitly gave approval by saying it had to be kept quiet. Louisville has an answer for that too. They claim Fair wasn’t approving anything, was not involved in arranging or making payments, and wasn’t a major participant in the scheme. Rather, he was simply aware of it. While they acknowledge Fair should’ve notified compliance officials, they don’t think his involvement should rise to a level one violation.
When it comes to alleged payments made by former assistant Kenny Johnson to the father of Brian Bowen, the university disputed this charge. Their answer is essentially that it’s a he said-he said situation and that Johnson’s account is much more credible than Bowen’s father’s account. They specifically seem to point out that Johnson’s account remained consistent while there were inconsistencies in the account given by Bowen’s father.
UofL is also intent on defending former Coach Rick Pitino. The NCAA alleged Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance from May 27th to June 1st of 2017. This was apparently due to a conversation between James Gatto and Pitino in which Gatto offered to put in a good word with Brian Bowen for UofL. UofL claims the conversation does not meet the charge as the bylaw mentioned only includes members of the program. The university is arguing no members were involved in the payments and that since Gatto is not an acknowledged member of the program in any capacity, Pitino cannot be guilty. They also argue that Pitino should’ve informed compliance officers of the Gatto phone call, but it didn’t meet the criteria of a violation as established by the bylaw.
The answer is 104 pages long, but in the end, Louisville is making the claim that the only real violations they can be charged with are level 2 and 3 violations for impermissible travel and impermissible contact with the prospective student-athlete. They categorically deny the level 1 violations levied against them. The crux of their argument is that Adidas officials were not acting on behalf of the university or basketball staff. Therefore, Louisville, as established by the convictions of James Gatto and Merle Code in federal court, were victims of a fraud perpetrated by them and not bad actors involved with them.
As far as Jordan Fair, they claim Fair was not a participant in what Adidas was doing. He didn’t help set up payments or even approve payments for Bowen. His crime was not reporting the meeting.
With Kenny Johnson, they admit level 3 violations, but deny he made any payments as alleged by Brian Bowen’s father. Instead, they argue that the only evidence is the word of the father against the word of Johnson. In their eyes, Johnson’s story was consistent and more credible than Bowen’s father’s story.
And with Rick Pitino, they argue he was constantly promoting compliance and that the charge he didn’t because of a short interaction with Gatto does not meet the criteria of a violation as set forth by the bylaw. The fact that Gatto is not a member of the staff or university athletic department means Pitino shouldn’t be held responsible for Gatto’s actions as Gatto is not a representative of the university or basketball program.
The arguments are compelling in my opinion. The convictions of Gatto and Code concluded the universities were victims. With Louisville, it appears that while they did commit violations, they weren’t necessarily aware of what Adidas was doing nor should they have been. However, it’s still a tough argument to make. As we know, the NCAA has wide latitude in how they can interpret a case and the punishment they can levy. Also, we all must remember that UofL was on probation at the time this happened due to what happened with Andre McGee and Katina Powell. A big mitigating factor, however, is that Louisville cleaned house by letting go of longtime AD Tom Jurich, Coach Pitino, Jordan Fair, and Kenny Johnson. The dismissals all occurred almost immediately after the issues came to light.
In the end, Louisville made a hell of an argument. Unlike some other schools attempting to make the same argument, Louisville appears to have a stronger case. Still, this is an uphill climb, but at least the athletic department is fighting for the future of the program. Hopefully, some of the arguments will fall on favorable ears. Regardless, I do not believe Louisville will escape punishment. I do believe a possible postseason ban is on the table. My hope is it won’t be multiple years. In the end, it’s wait and see.