Last night’s NCAA Tournament action provided fans with exciting finishes and the prospect of two regional final games between low-seeded teams. Michigan was the only higher-seeded team to win last night and they did so in a blowout win over Texas A&M which was so stunning that it was interesting to watch despite the outcome being determined by the middle of the first half. Normally, I would spend time here going through each game; but today, I want to focus on something else.
In yesterday’s Washington Post there was an article by Will Hobson that you can find here. Hobson’s work on the sports beat focuses on scandals and investigations involving sports figures or institutions. In the past, he has reported on the FBI probe into college basketball recruiting, the Dr. Larry Nassar atrocity, allegations of sexual abuse on the US Swim Team; doping at the Winter Games in Sochi, Jerry Sandusky and – – you get the idea. He is not someone whose work is in the paper every day; but when it is, I always give it my attention.
Yesterday, Hobson provided a long piece based on interviews with Rick Pitino where Hobson provided Pitino’s side of the story regarding his being accused in the FBI probe of college basketball recruiting that led to his firing at Louisville. As you must suspect, Pitino claims he is innocent of any wrongdoing and offers – via his attorney – evidence that supports that claim. Here is one paragraph from Hobson’s report where Pitino stakes out his ground:
“ ‘I’m not on any wiretap. There’s not a shred of evidence that I did anything wrong. . . . They basically blew up my life . . . for one reason: publicity,’ Pitino said. ‘I have my faults, like we all do . . . but I’ve never cheated to get a player’.”
You can and should read Hobson’s report in its entirety at the link above. It is long; it is good reporting; it is well written; I found it more than worthwhile. What caught my attention was Pitino’s claim that he was named as a perpetrator here because of the publicity that would attract to the case. I have no idea if that dimension ever entered the minds of those in the US Attorney’s Office handling the matter, but it would not shock me to learn that it did. Consider:
- Pitino’s accuser also said that Miami coach, Jim Laranega, was involved in under-the-table payments to get players. Laranega has categorically denied those allegations but he has not been charged by the same folks who charged Pitino. Was Pitino’s greater public recognition part of that apparent disparity?
- Pitino says he is “not on any wiretap”. We know there were wiretap warrants issued in this case; so, if Pitino’s phones/e-mails were not part of the collection of evidence, that would be surprising all by itself.
- What is not surprising here is that the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office chose not to comment for Hobson’s report yesterday. What is also not surprising is that Federal officials made a grand show of accusing a high-profile figure in the middle phase of an investigation. There are lots of examples of Wall Street execs who “took the perp walk” in handcuffs drawing attention to whatever investigation was ongoing.
Rick Pitino would have us believe that he was targeted here because he is famous as a college basketball coach. Indeed he is; he is the only coach to win national championships at two different schools and he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. No one else who has been named in the investigation comes even close to those levels of achievement and recognition in the sport. There is no way to resolve that question now; perhaps we will be able to come to a conclusion about it down the line as more information becomes public. What strikes me is that the Basketball Hall of Fame induction MIGHT be part of the issue here. Normally, when someone is recognized by induction into any sort of Hall of Fame, the predominant atmosphere surrounding that honor is completely positive.
That possibility leads me to wonder about two things:
- Should coaches who are still active on the bench be eligible for Hall of Fame induction? Active players are not eligible…
- For college coaches, should proven violations of major NCAA rules be reason enough to remove them from the Hall of Fame?
Rick Pitino is not the only person in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach who has had scandal attached to his name. I can think of four other coaches with similar blemishes on their résumés:
- Jim Boeheim
- Larry Brown
- Jim Calhoun
- John Calipari
I realize that holding off until retirement does not guarantee “sanctity” in the population of Hall of Famers. The “OJ Simpson Matter” puts that to rest. I have always wondered if the Halls of Fame as institutions would be better served with “better people” as their inductees and if there ought to be a way to expel inductees who subsequently proved to be bad apples. Now, with Rick Pitino’s assertion that his fame was used against him in this probe, I wonder if waiting to honor a coach would not be beneficial to the coach himself/herself.
Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times about a different person who may someday be inducted into a different Hall of Fame:
“The San Francisco Giants announced plans to retire flaxseed-oil connoisseur Barry Bonds’ No.25 this season.
“His was the only jersey you had to wash in cold water just to keep the number from increasing to 26.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………