History is a bizarre subject.
It's the subject which reminds us where we have come from, but also indicates where we are going. Often times history is told in such a way that people remember two things; the hero and the villain. History is written by the victor, telling the story that gives shines a light on who is right, and casts a dark cloud over who is wrong.
The history of Kentucky basketball is littered with heroes and villains. Kentucky basketball has not had a more polarizing figure than Rick Pitino. Pitino has solicited many emotions from Big Blue Nation. Kentucky fans have very fond yet very unpleasant memories of him. No figure beside Pitino has stood for everything Kentucky is and become everything that Kentucky despises.
When Pitino became the head coach at Kentucky in 1989 the program was at its lowest point in over six decades. The infamous Sports Illustrated "Kentucky's Shame" cover still resonates as one of the most damning things in the programs history. Pitino was the hero that saved Kentucky and commenced the program into a renaissance. The Renaissance of Kentucky basketball in the 1990's featured three Final Fours, a National Championship and many memorable players and moments. When Pitino left Kentucky for the Boston Celtics in 1997 the program was at heights that it had not reached since Adolph Rupp was the coach.
In his Hall of Fame speech, Pitino analogized Kentucky to Camelot. He told the audience in his speech that he never had a "bad day" at Kentucky, that it was the "best time of his life". After his departure to Boston, Pitino has repeatedly said that if he could change one thing it would be that he wouldn't have left Kentucky for the $50 million. Who knows what history could have been like had Pitino never left Kentucky.
For all of the infallible traits of Rick Pitino, there have been several key moments in his life that humbled him and changed him for the better. One of the most important moments occurred on September 11, 2001. On that infamous day, the United States was attacked by terrorists. Americans were greatly affected, some more than others. One of those people personally touched by the horrific events was Pitino.
He not only grow up in New York City, but Pitino coached the New York Knicks in the late 1980's. However, his city being attacked was the least of the problem. His brother-in-law and best friend, Billy Minardi, was tragically killed in the attacks. To honor his friend's loss, Pitino built Billy Minardi Hall on Louisville's campus as a residential dorm for his basketball players and students. He also started the "Billy Minardi Classic" as an event to honor his friend's death each season.
Fast forward almost fifteen years later we reach one of the most pivotal points in Pitino's career. The building that was erected to honor his friend has now been tainted by a scandal that rocks Pitino to his very core. What happened within the venerated dormitory is so unfathomable that it's not even clear that the culprits comprehend what really happened.
For the moment what is known is that an assistant coach, Andre McGee, paid escort Katina Powell a sum of money to perform for recruits and players within the dorm over a four-year period. On Tuesday ESPN's Outside The Lines produced a story with information that surely hurt Pitino's heart as one former recruit told ESPN that "it was like I was in a strip club" at Minardi Hall. The story found a wire transfer from McGee to Powell last summer when McGee was at another position at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The report also confirmed that text messages to arrange the parties came from McGee’s cell phone.
There are burning questions that must be answered. Why did McGee arrange for these parties? Where did the idea of these parties come from? Who financed the parties? Who contacted McGee to perform the wire transfer? How many more assistants or administrators are involved? The answers may cripple the foundation of the Louisville program.
The Louisville administration, including Pitino, continue to profess that they knew nothing about the allegations and had they known what was truly happening within Minardi Hall it would have stopped. The stance of not knowing is perhaps true, and in some instances may be fact. However, regardless of what they did or did not know does not change what happened. Not knowing is worse considering how manipulative and controlling Pitino is with his basketball program.
Perhaps what is the most concerning thing for Louisville and its fans is that the allegations did not secure any of the players that its claims to have occurred with. Antonio Blakeney, JaQuan Lyle, and Jordan Mickey are mentioned by name by Powell. None of the three signed with Louisville. Despite her, albeit, best efforts none of the prospects became Cardinals. The lack of production by this escort and her services is pure ignorance by those involved. Had she been a catalyst for signing multiple top prospects there may be a case for why it was effective to use her. BUT she did not even have the ability to help the program land the players she mentioned by name. That is just unabashed arrogance not only by her, but by the coach(es) involved.
The NCAA will not take this lightly. The Louisville administration will surely take this into consideration. This is a unique case which has never been seen before in NCAA history. Never before has prostitution occurred with a sports program in a dorm which included players and recruits. Most of the allegations occur during the 2012 and 2013 seasons when Louisville went to a Final Four and won the NCAA Championship. How are those two things affected? Anything paid for by a coach or booster is considered an impermissible benefit, especially "parties". If players that were enrolled at Louisville received those things do those impermissible benefits make them ineligible?
The only thing that Louisville may do to reduce their punishment from the NCAA is to self-impose a ban from the NCAA Tournament either this season or next. Syracuse did this last season and received a lighter penalty from the NCAA for this season which includes suspensions and restrictions. Maybe Pitino steps down and retires to avoid embarrassment, but hubris is one of his strongest characteristics.
The Louisville basketball program is at a crossroads. For all of their recent success, and there has been a lot of it, they are now at a point where they must decide where they want to be five and ten years from 2015. It is the Louisville administration that must make that decision, and make it for themselves. It is not to be influenced by fans, writers, or opposing fans. Louisville's basketball program is the school's pride and joy that has influenced success into every program under Athletic Director Tom Jurich's guidance.
What do they want it to be now?
The events will play themselves out over the next couple of months. More stories will come out about what happened, and it will not get any easier for Louisville and its fans. Pitino may be on his last leg, and may not have much longer coaching at Louisville. It is sad to see him going down like this, but it is important to remember this about the former Kentucky coach: He brought Kentucky out of a scandal, even if he is about to take Louisville down in one.