Louisville received a notice of allegations from the NCAA on Monday, including one Level I allegation involving improper recruiting offers for former signee Brian Bowen II and the coach of another prospect and three Level II allegations, including one against former basketball coach Rick Pitino.
Louisville also is accused of failing to adequately monitor the recruitment of an incoming, high-profile student-athlete.
The NCAA alleges that Pitino, who recently was hired at Iona, did not satisfy his head coach responsibility when he failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance. Former assistant coaches Kenny Johnson and Jordan Fair are accused of providing impermissible benefits and transportation and having impermissible contact with a recruit.
Louisville is the seventh program to receive an NCAA Notice of Allegations stemming from the FBI investigation into college basketball. Kansas, NC State, Oklahoma State and South Carolina were all accused of Level I violations. USC and TCU did not publicly release their notices or the allegations they were facing.
Sources previously told ESPN that NCAA enforcement staff members also were investigating Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, LSU and possibly other programs.
Louisville officials and the former coaches have 90 days to respond to the NCAA. Athletic director Vince Tyra said during a teleconference with reporters Monday that the university could elect to adjudicate the case through the NCAA’s newly created Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP), which includes investigators and hearing officers with no direct ties to the NCAA or its member schools. The IARP is handling a similar case involving NC State. Its decisions are final, and there are no appeals.
In a joint statement from Louisville president Neeli Bendapudi and Tyra, the university said it is reviewing the notice of allegations and will begin formulating a response to the charges.
“It is important to remember that these are allegations — not facts — and the University will diligently prepare a full and comprehensive response and, absent an unforeseen development, submit it within the prescribed ninety-day period,” the Louisville statement said. “For those allegations that are proven to be factual, the University will take responsibility, as accountability is one of our core Cardinal Principles.
Jeff Borzello reports on the latest round of allegations Louisville is facing from the NCAA.
“However, we will not hesitate to push back where the evidence does not support the NCAA’s interpretations or allegations of charges. U of L has a right and a responsibility to stand up for itself when faced with unfair or unfounded charges and will always act in the best interests of the institution. Our legal team has begun the process of reviewing the Notice and will prepare a thorough response on behalf of the University.”
Iona said it is “aware of the report.”
“Prior to hiring Coach Pitino, we conducted extensive due diligence. We support Coach Pitino and expect him to respond within the process,” the school said in a statement.
Pitino also responded to the allegation against him.
“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.”
Much like in the NCAA compliance cases involving Kansas and NC State, the NCAA enforcement staff has alleged that Adidas and Adidas employees and associates were boosters and agents of Louisville during the period of the alleged violations and therefore acting on its behalf when they allegedly engaged in violations of NCAA bylaws.
In the notice of allegations, the NCAA enforcement staff alleges that Fair “was knowingly involved” in providing between $11,800 and $13,500 in impermissible benefits to Brad Augustine, an Orlando, Florida-based grassroots director, to influence a player to sign with the Cardinals. Former Louisville recruit Balsa Koprivica, now at Florida State, was a player in Augustine’s program at the time.
Johnson, now an assistant coach at La Salle, is accused of “knowingly” providing a $1,300 extra benefit to Bowen. The NCAA alleges that Pitino, whom Louisville fired in October 2017, “violated head coach responsibility legislation when he failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the men’s basketball program.”
“Specifically, the Adidas corporation (Adidas), a representative of the institution’s athletics interests, and its employee, James Gatto (Gatto), then director of global sports marketing for basketball, informed Pitino that he would assist in the recruitment of then men’s basketball student-athlete (Bowen),” the notice of allegations said. “Despite (Bowen’s) belated interest in the institution, Pitino’s knowledge of another institution’s alleged cash offer for (Bowen’s) commitment and Gatto possessing inside knowledge of the institution’s interest in and recruitment of (Bowen), Pitino failed to conduct an additional inquiry as to Gatto’s type or level of assistance, which included a $100,000 impermissible offer and $25,000 extra benefit.”
Under NCAA rules, Pitino can receive a show-cause order and be suspended for up to half a season for Level II violations. The length of the suspension is determined by the committee on infractions and depends on the “severity of the violation(s) committed, the level of the coach’s involvement and any other aggravating or mitigating factors.”
The NCAA enforcement staff noted in the notice of allegations that at the time Pitino allegedly failed to promote compliance in his program regarding Bowen’s recruitment, “he was awaiting a decision from the Committee on Infractions and subsequently subject to a show-cause order as a result of the decision, a Level I head coach responsibility infraction.”
Among the other aggravating factors cited by the enforcement staff in the notice of allegations are Louisville’s history of rules noncompliance (the Cardinals have been placed on NCAA probation three times since 1996); that the violations were premeditated, deliberate or committed after substantial planning; that one or more violations caused significant ineligibility to a student-athlete; and intentional, willful or blatant disregard for NCAA constitution and bylaws.
In September 2017, Louisville officials ruled Bowen ineligible after an FBI investigation uncovered that an Adidas employee and others conspired to pay his father $100,000 for him to sign with the Cardinals. After Bowen transferred to South Carolina, the NCAA ruled him ineligible for the 2018-19 season.
Bowen, 21, never played a game in college and wasn’t selected in the 2019 NBA draft. He signed a two-way contract with the Indiana Pacers in July 2019. He played in five games for the Pacers in the 2019-20 season.
Louisville’s recruitment of Bowen, a former five-star recruit from Saginaw, Michigan, was at the center of the federal government’s investigation into bribes and other corruption in the sport.
Gatto, former consultant Merl Code and aspiring business manager Christian Dawkins were convicted in October 2018 for their roles in pay-for-play schemes to steer recruits to Adidas-sponsored schools. The three men are appealing their convictions.
In the spring of 2017, Louisville was not involved in Bowen’s recruitment, and he had never been to campus. He favored Arizona, according to his father, Brian Bowen Sr., but they were worried about more experienced players being ahead of him.
“Louisville offered him a scholarship as a freshman, but they’d been off the radar,” Bowen Sr. testified during the federal criminal trial. “We hadn’t really talked to them.”
After Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins returned to Arizona for the 2017-18 season and Donovan Mitchell left Louisville for the NBA, Bowen Sr. said Dawkins approached him about the possibility of Bowen II playing for the Cardinals.
Federal prosecutor Ted Diskant showed the jury text messages between Bowen Sr. and Pitino on May 24, 2017, with Bowen Sr. asking Pitino to talk to his son.
The government also played a voicemail that Gatto left for Pitino on May 27, 2017.
“I just got a call about a player I want to discuss with you,” Gatto said.
On May 29, 2017, Bowen II, his mother, his father, a friend and Dawkins took an unofficial visit to Louisville. Bowen Sr. told the jury that Dawkins paid for the visit.
On June 1, 2017, Bowen II committed to Louisville and signed a financial aid agreement with the school. Shortly thereafter, Gatto left another voicemail for Pitino, according to the government.
“Coach, Gatto,” he said. “Hope all is well. Checking in. Heard the good news, um, and it’s going to be good, and I’m excited for you guys.”
After Adidas officials made an initial offer of $60,000 to $80,000, according to Dawkins, Bowen Sr. said the offer to attend Louisville went up to $100,000 because Dawkins alleged that Billy Preston, who had chosen to play at Kansas, received $100,000 from Adidas for his commitment. The money was to be paid in four installments of $25,000.
John Carns, Louisville’s senior associate athletic director for compliance, told the jury that he was unaware of the payments at the time.
In an interview with ESPN in 2017, Pitino reiterated that he had “no knowledge” of any payment to Bowen’s family, citing a lie detector test that he took in October of that year.
Pitino said of Bowen: “He fell into our lap in recruiting. Obviously, now with the circumstances behind it, there’s more to it than meets the eye. But I believe Brian Bowen chose the University of Louisville because he loved the visit, he loved his future teammates, and he wanted to play for me. I don’t think he’s involved in this in any way. Now, am I being naive? I don’t know. I just believe in that young man.”
The NCAA placed Louisville on probation for four years in June 2017, following a two-year investigation into allegations that a former Louisville staff member arranged for striptease dances and sex acts for players and recruits during parties at an on-campus dormitory from 2011 to 2015. The Cardinals were also forced to vacate their 2013 national championship and 2012 Final Four appearance, and they self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2015-16 season.
That scandal stemmed from allegations made by former escort Katina Powell, who wrote in a book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,” that former Louisville staffer Andre McGee paid her $10,000 for 22 shows at the Cardinals’ dormitory from 2010 to 2014.
Pitino denied knowledge of McGee’s actions, but the NCAA ruled that he violated NCAA head coach responsibility rules by failing to monitor McGee. Pitino received a five-game ACC suspension, and McGee was given a 10-year show cause.
“Since arriving at Louisville, I have seen up close the incredible changes that have taken place under the leadership of President Bendapudi and Director of Athletics Vince Tyra in our university and in our athletics department. The shared values and commitment to integrity is evident in their actions and has always been demanded in the programs that my staff and I have led,” current Louisville coach Chris Mack said in a statement.
“While I understand the allegations brought today, I am confident that the University will do what is right, which includes fighting back on those charges that we simply do not agree with, and for which the facts do not substantiate. The future is bright for Cardinal Basketball. Our focus will continue to be on our tremendous student-athletes.”