The Louisville Infractions Case: Life Lessons For Student-Athletes

June 29th, 2017 | by Dan Matheson
The Louisville Infractions Case:  Life Lessons For Student-Athletes


The NCAA Committee on Infractions recently punished the University of Louisville for violations related to the actions of a former men’s basketball staff member.  During recruiting visits over a three-and-a-half-year period, the staff member arranged for prostitutes to perform striptease shows for and sexual acts on prospects, some as young as 16 and 17, and student-athletes at a campus dormitory.  Head coach Rick Pitino denied any knowledge of the activities, but the infractions committee suspended him for five conference games and took back some NCAA tournament revenue earned by the team, in addition to other penalties.  Pitino and the school responded to the penalties with indignation, promising to appeal the decision.  During a press conference, Louisville interim president Greg Postel said, “The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions went beyond what we consider to be fair and reasonable.”

While there was no evidence that Pitino knew about the illegal acts, the infractions committee concluded that Pitino failed to monitor his staff as it related to behavior in the dormitory during recruiting visits.  That was the basis of the NCAA penalty against Pitino.  NCAA bylaw creates a presumption that head coaches are responsible for the actions of those who report to them.  That presumption is rebuttable if a head coach presents sufficient evidence that he did an appropriate job of monitoring subordinates who broke the rules.  In this instance, the committee did not believe Pitino offered sufficient evidence of monitoring.

Since one of the NCAA’s core values is, as its website states, maintaining a commitment to the “supporting role that intercollegiate athletics plays in the higher education mission,” we should all reflect on the life lessons the University of Louisville is teaching its student-athletes through this process.  One important takeaway should be that professional success and the financial value that one provides an employer outweigh just about anything else an employee does or fails to do.  It is difficult to conceive of many other situations in which an institution of higher learning would continue to stand behind anyone, in athletics or academics, who supervised a small unit that utilized prostitutes on campus in the student recruitment process, regardless of who was to blame or how little the supervisor knew.  Schools routinely terminate lower-status employees and non-revenue-sport coaches for insufficient oversight issues during NCAA infractions cases, but Pitino’s program wins games and generates revenue.  He is a celebrity coach.  The bottom line for student-athletes:  if you produce results at your future job, you can become virtually bulletproof.

Pitino was not the only person in a position of authority who the committee identified as possibly being negligent in monitoring recruiting activities at the dorm.  The dorm was small (38 beds) and used almost exclusively for the men’s basketball team, but a few beds in the dorm were occupied by students not associated with the basketball team, and the school’s housing department placed a live-in resident assistant at the dorm and staffed a security desk overnight.  There were several institutional policies and procedures to follow for having overnight guests, such as recruits, and at least four non-athletics officials were required to approve of overnight, underage guests.  According to the committee’s findings during its hearing, the men’s basketball team did not follow the policies and procedures for guests and did not obtain the required approvals from non-athletics officials for underage guests.  In other words, Louisville allowed an athletics dorm to operate without following institutional housing policies, which contributed to significant violations that ultimately rendered several student-athletes ineligible.  If the resident assistants, security personnel, and housing department supervisors who had responsibility for enforcing policies and procedures had done a better job of monitoring the small dorm, the illegal activities could have been prevented or at least discovered and dealt with much sooner.

Nevertheless, the NCAA enforcement staff did not charge Louisville with a failure to monitor or lack of institutional control, and the committee on infractions did not find the school responsible for any additional monitoring or lack-of-control violations.  Leaving a dorm essentially under the control of the basketball team and not following institutional policies and procedures for requesting and registering guests, and those shortcomings contributing to serious NCAA violations, are larger institutional problems for which the school should also have to take responsibility under the NCAA infractions process.

In his official statement on the NCAA penalties, Postel said, “We believe the penalties imposed today are unfair to the U of L community and our current and former student-athletes, many of whom have already paid a heavy price for actions that did not involve them.…the Committee on Infractions has gone too far and taken actions that are unwarranted.  We will appeal.”  Pay attention, student-athletes.  A university president declared that penalties against what is supposed to be an extracurricular educational activity are excessive after that extracurricular program provided prostitutes to minors in an effort to recruit them to the school.  When was the last time you saw a university president fight against “unwarranted” penalties against other extracurricular educational campus organizations, such as fraternities, after sexual misconduct and excessive partying charges?  Are you picking up any other life lessons that Louisville is teaching you?

Dan Matheson About Dan Matheson
Dan Matheson, J.D., is director of the University of Iowa Sport & Recreation Management program. Prior to joining the Iowa faculty, Matheson was an NCAA associate director of enforcement and the New York Yankees baseball operations director. He serves on Iowa’s Presidential Committee on Athletics and is a dynamic keynote speaker and panelist who has received multiple teaching honors.

Comments are closed.

A Briefing Of The Day's College Athletics News
To Your Inbox Tonight.

* indicates required