Today, ESPN featured the University of Louisville Cardinals basketball program on its Outside the Lines segment. As anyone taking the time to read this already knows, it won't be a flattering portrayal. Katina Powell, a 42-year-old former prostitute recently co-wrote a scathing "book", "Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen", detailing a series of encounters where she was contracted to and did provide strippers and escorts to Louisville players and recruits right in their basketball dorm. The arrangements were allegedly made with one Andre McGee, then a Louisville graduate assistant.
If you have any question that the main gist, if not every single detail of her account is true, I encourage you to take five minutes to watch the OTL segment available on-line. Whether every allegation involving every player or recruit is ever substantiated, there is little question that the main plotlines detailed in her book are absolutely true. ESPN has confirmed far too many details for this to now be dismissed as the ramblings of a career criminal. While it is fair to question Powell's motives for exposing this and to point out she is arguably the story's biggest villain, the veracity of her story itself is off the table.
As I'll get to in a minute, there are a number of disturbing aspects to this story. The thing I find most disturbing, though, are the reactions of many other college basketball fans around the country, and specifically some of us who've cast our lot as members of Big Blue Nation. Not only are people taking great delight in the harm that this will cause the Louisville Basketball program, some actually find this all funny. In fact, it is anything but. This story is not only a scathing indictment of Louisville, it puts a blight on college basketball as a whole and on an even more macro level, says a lot of things about human beings I'd rather not think about.
My first reaction to all of this was to think of the parents who entrusted their kids to the University of Louisville to go on recruiting visits or to ultimately play on their basketball team. That is now tempered somewhat by what Powell says in the video above. Being 42 while pimping out a group of much younger women (more on that in a minute) she says candidly that her job in this affair was mainly to take care of the "parents and guardians" while the other girls had sex with the players. The idea that fathers and sons participated in this together is tough to stomach.
The story takes an even darker turn with a rather startling reveal that among what Powell estimates to be two dozen dancers/whatever you want to call them attending these parties were three of her own daughters. The book supposedly intimates that some of the girls were underage at the time of their encounters.
Tellingly, only Powell's two oldest daughters appear on camera in the ESPN clip. Both admit to having sex with players for money. With their Mother sitting right next to them. The women are said to be 22 and 24.
While Powell openly admits to brokering her daughters' prostitution, she now says that there were no underage girls involved. That seems like a dubious place for her to have drawn a moral line. Authorities will have to suss that out. Though Powell appears intelligent and poised on camera, I can't help but think that she didn't think this all the way through.
She certainly does not have a conscience. But I would have expected a better instinct for self-preservation.
The shocking is that Powell tells the entire tale without an ounce of remorse or introspection. She describes brokering her daughters' payments for sex the way I might tell you about closing a real estate loan.
As always in stories like this, while there has been some discussion that the women may have been underage, the fact that many of the recruits were, by definition, underage and having sex with prostitutes paid for by adults has barely registered a mention.
Throughout this retelling, there seems to be a lot of focus on how much of this Rick Pitino knew. My guess is he didn't "know" anything and didn't want to know anything. McGee was the bag man, the slush fund came from elsewhere, and Pitino was purposefully shielded from anything that went on. Why would it be done any other way?
Here's the thing Kentucky fans need to realize. Unless there is a smoking gun somewhere, which I highly doubt, Pitino isn't going anywhere. The financial realities of UofL sports make it so. No matter what he knew or didn't know, Pitino is a broken man with a sullied reputation. As a UK fan who doesn't particularly like him but doesn't lose any sleep over it, what happens to him is irrelevant to me. Rick is who he is regardless.
Pitino also happens to be an amazing college basketball coach who will not be easily replaced.
Unless you are a hedge fund manager with a golden touch, a world renowned surgeon, a multi-million dollar rainmaker or yourself an elite college football or basketball coach, Pitino is playing by a different set of rules than you and I are. Life isn't fair. Wear a helmet.
Pitino's true punishment for this mess, whether implicated personally or not, has already been worse than losing his job. The basketball dorm in question, Billy Minardi Hall, is named for his brother-in-law who perished on 9/11. Every news report on the subject drags that man's name through the mud. That has to be an awful feeling for Pitino. He is rich and famous and will be for the rest of his life. This is worse than anything UofL could do to him at this point.
I see no reason to pile on.
While I'm moralizing, I'll mention one final thing. College basketball recruiting is a cesspool, and has been for a long time. If you don't admit that to yourself, you aren't paying attention. Why buy the players and the parents sex, when the kids could probably get it for free just by going to parties with the players? Hint: it isn't just about getting a kid laid so he likes your school a little more.
I suspect that there is an element of Omerta to the whole thing. If you allow a school to pay for your or your kid to have sex with a prostitute while on an official visit, how much harder is it to say no to that school? I would say, substantially. There is an "I Know What You Did Last Summer" element of control there that I bet no one talks about, but is present nonetheless.
Fans of any college basketball team should best pay heed. If you think that Louisville invented this trick in 2010, I've got some prime swampland in the everglades for sale.
Follow me on Twitter @AlexScutchfield