Men's Basketball

How Louisville’s infractions report compares to Syracuse’s

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Hall of Fame coaches Jim Boeheim, of Syracuse, and Rick Pitino, of Louisville, have now both been hit with NCAA penalties.

The NCAA on Thursday morning announced it had placed Louisville on probation and suspended its Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino for five games, somewhat echoing the sanctions the same governing body hit Syracuse with a little more than two years ago.

Louisville may have to vacate its 2013 national title if it does not win the appeal filed on Thursday. If Louisville loses the appeal, it would be the first vacated national title in men’s basketball history. There are also 108 regular season games and 15 NCAA tournament victories that could be vacated, including the Cardinals’ Final Four run in 2012.

At the surface, the Syracuse penalty may seem harsher. In 2015, the NCAA suspended SU head coach Jim Boeheim nine conference games for failed drug tests and an improperly completed academic paper for then-center Fab Melo. Boeheim’s suspension nearly doubled Pitino’s (five games for a sex ring), and it placed Syracuse on probation a year longer than Louisville.

Though NCAA violation cases vary widely, these two punishments create a comparison between a pair of men’s basketball programs that both made recent trips to the Final Four and show the NCAA’s varying approach on rulings, the role of precedent and the power of big-time college athletics.

Syracuse and Louisville were caught breaking the rules for very different reasons. For Syracuse, among the NCAA’s 94-page report, its findings included SU breaking its own drug policy, improper academic benefits and a “lack of institutional control” over the department. There also were several incidents of student-athletes receiving impermissible benefits from assistants and tutors.

The result for SU: The NCAA took away three scholarships in each of the next four seasons (2015-19), vacated 101 wins and placed the program on five years of probation. Boeheim was suspended for the first nine games of Atlantic Coast Conference play in 2015-16.

pitino
Daily Orange File Photo

After its appeal, Syracuse won back four scholarships, one each year. Boeheim started his suspension prior to conference play.

For Louisville, the NCAA found that a former director of basketball operations provided strippers and prostitutes to players and recruits in a dormitory and hotel for several years. In its own words, the NCAA found “instances of adult entertainment and/or prostitution for 15 prospective student-athletes, three enrolled student-athletes, a friend visiting campus with one of the prospects and two nonscholastic basketball coaches.”

Pitino maintains he did not know about the sex ring, but the NCAA found ignorance a non-excuse, much like it did for Boeheim in 2015.

The NCAA verdict for Louisville, announced Thursday morning, puts Louisville on probation for four years. The university was fined $5,000 and ordered to return any conference revenue sharing money it received for appearances in the NCAA Tournament from 2012-15. The director of basketball operations was handed a 10-year show-cause order, essentially barring him from coaching at any NCAA university. A former assistant coach was given a one-year show-cause order.

How the NCAA even began to investigate the programs differed quite drastically. In 2007, Syracuse self-reported possible violations. The Louisville scandal, on the other hand, was revealed nearly two years ago, in the book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,” by self-described former escort Katina Powell. She said she was an escort service employee providing women to entertain recruits and their player hosts. The incidents took place in an on-campus dormitory, according to an NCAA notice of allegations released by Louisville last year.

Louisville responded by announcing a self-imposed postseason ban for 2015-16. Such actions are common — Syracuse self-imposed a postseason ban of its own during the 2014-15 season — because schools can pre-empt the sanctions and, by indicating a willingness to cooperate, lessen or absolve the penalty.


Daily Orange File Photo

The self-imposed ban came during a year in which the Orange was 18-13 overall, 9-9 in the ACC and unlikely to earn an NCAA Tournament berth. The year Louisville self-imposed its ban, the Cardinals finished the season 23-8 overall, 12-6 in conference and No. 14 in the Top 25.

The NCAA said it accepted Louisville’s self-imposed postseason ban, but the NCAA said it didn’t accept Syracuse’s. It’s unclear why the NCAA responded the way it did in each case.

Pitino has won a pair of national titles, led three colleges to the Final Four and completed his 16th season at UofL this spring. He ranks 12th in Division I men’s basketball with 770 career wins. At Syracuse, Boeheim has won a national title of his own, led the Orange to five Final Fours and completed his 41st season at the helm. His 1,004 unofficial wins would place him second in Division I men’s basketball.

On the days the penalties were handed down — March 6, 2015 and June 15, 2017 — the legendary coaches responded in a similar fashion. Pitino called the punishments Thursday “over-the-top severe,” while Boeheim said SU’s were “unduly harsh.”

Two top basketball programs in the ACC, each overseen by a Hall of Famer who in the eyes of the NCAA failed to monitor his staff. Two sets of vacated victories and scholarship reduction. Two self-imposed bans. Syracuse’s worked, and Louisville’s appeal is pending.

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