Just 51 days removed from being named the new coach at Iona, Hall of Famer Rick Pitino is already under intense NCAA scrutiny as the findings of a scandal investigation dating back to his tenure at Louisville come to light.
On Monday, the NCAA released its long-anticipated notice of allegations related to his former employer and misdeeds allegedly committed while leading the Cardinals program. Those allegations include a Level I violation levied against the university for improper recruiting benefits provided to the family of an enrollee and three Level II violations — one of which tags Pitino with failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance.
In its findings, the NCAA enforcement staff deemed Pitino’s involvement a “significant breach of conduct” that “compromised the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model.” It falls under the category of a head coach responsibility violation. As part of its discovery, the NCAA alleges that Pitino knew about unsavory recruiting practices taking place at another institution involving former Adidas rep Jim Gatto, who was helping Pitino recruit a player, and did nothing to report it to compliance staff.
Now there are three degrees of punishment Pitino potentially faces in the wake of these allegations: “aggravated,” “standard,” or “mitigated.” The punishment for a Level II mitigation violation could result in a suspension of up to 10% of the season; the punishment for a Level II standard violation could result in a suspension of up to 30% of the season; for an aggravated violation at Level II, it carries a suspension of up to 50% of the season.
Pitino has maintained his innocence throughout, but nonetheless, he faces a significant punishment dependent upon how the NCAA ultimately deems the violation.
“Today the NCAA released an NOA and alleges a Level II violation against me,” Pitino said in a statement responding to the report. “I firmly disagree with this allegation and will follow the protocols in addressing this allegation through the administrative process. Due to NCAA bylaws on public disclosure on enforcement issues, I will have no further comment on this matter until it is resolved.”
Iona then released its own statement on Pitino, saying it executed due diligence on him prior to his hiring and that it stands behind him as he navigates the NCAA process.
The NCAA does not make clear what determines each tier of punishment, but its initial findings determining he committed a “significant” breach of conduct that compromised the NCAA’s bedrock principles would lead one to believe he won’t get off easy. The parlance of the NOA related specifically to Pitino skew closer to aggravated than mitigated.
“The enforcement staff believes a hearing panel could prescribe head coach restrictions pursuant to NCAA Bylaw 220.127.116.11 regarding Pitino’s involvement,” the NOA states. Here is how the cited bylaw reads in the NCAA rulebook:
If a determination is made by the hearing panel that an employing institution has not taken appropriate disciplinary or corrective action regarding a head coach found in violation of Bylaw 18.104.22.168, the panel may issue an order that the institution suspend the coach for a number of contests from the range set forth in Figure 19-1 that would apply to the underlying violation(s) unless the institution appears before the panel to show cause why the suspension should not be applied. Decisions regarding disciplinary or corrective actions involving personnel shall be made by the institution, but the determination of whether the action satisfies the institution’s obligation of NCAA membership shall rest solely with the Committee on Infractions or Independent Resolution Panel.
As it relates to the violations, Pitino was fired by Louisville for conduct related to the matter, and Louisville cleaned house in the wake of the scandal. Perhaps those factors will bode well for the NCAA’s view of the situation for both the university and Pitino. But Pitino still faces a lengthy suspension unless evidence arises to the contrary in front of a hearing panel showing why it would not apply to him specifically.
Getting hit with a half-season suspension, which seems well within the realm of outcomes for Pitino, would stunt what momentum he’s been able to establish in the two months since he took over the Gaels program. In just a short time, he’s signed a six-man recruiting class for next year, led by Ryan Myers, the school’s second-highest rated prospect all-time. There is buzz about the program. But now, for the first time in two months, Pitino’s presence may be more of a buzzkill as Iona grapples with how to presently handle its coach’s indiscretions of the past.