Pitino's Lawsuit May Not Be About the Money

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Copyright 2017 The Evansville Courier Co.
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Evansville Courier & Press (Indiana)


One unscrupulous underling is a problem. Two is a pattern. Having already played the rogue assistant card with Andre McGee, Rick Pitino had run out of reasonable excuses when the FBI caught another University of Louisville assistant basketball coach allegedly conspiring to bribe the father of a five-star recruit.

He had to go. There is broad consensus about that. Having survived one scandal involving a brief fling in a local restaurant and another of long-standing in which strippers and prostitutes were brought into a university dormitory to entertain players and prospects, Pitino's memorable tenure entered a short-lived lame-duck period on the morning of Sept. 26.

Now comes the lawsuit. Let's see who blinks first.

"Presumed to be responsible" for the actions of all of his staff members (according to contract section 4.3), and subject to termination for just cause in the event of "disparaging media publicity of a material nature that damages the good name and reputation" of U of L (Section 6.1.2), Pitino enters these proceedings like a team trailing Duke by double digits with less than a minute left.

If the University of Louisville Athletic Association's strategy was temporarily in error - Pitino's leave was initially and erroneously unpaid before that blunder was remedied - it otherwise occupies the higher ground. ULAA might choose to negotiate a settlement to spare itself some adverse publicity and court costs, but it seems unlikely that it would pay Pitino more than a small portion of the $38.7 million he seeks.

It seems unlikely, too, that Pitino wants to endure discovery and depositions that will surely revisit the Karen Sypher mess. It seems imprudent that he would invest so much energy and capital in a case that could be torpedoed by the testimony of some rogue assistant, runner, street agent, bag man or one of the other parasites who populate college basketball.

To run those risks for what looks like a legal longshot would seem rash, inconsistent with the astute calculation that has characterized Pitino's career. Yet it's also possible this case is not so much about money as it is about posterity; that Pitino is really fighting for his reputation, convinced that he is clean. It's at least conceivable that he could lose the lawsuit but gain some ground in the court of public opinion.

Though a certain amount of suspicion may be warranted, so is a certain amount of logic. Ask yourself this: Would Pitino file this suit if he thought anyone facing prison could reduce their sentence by ratting him out? Moreover, could the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York stage a higher-profile perp walk than a Hall of Fame coach caught in its investigation and being paraded in handcuffs?

If Pitino has something to hide for his part in Brian Bowen's recruitment, it had better be carefully concealed or the feds are sure to find it. Even if he has nothing to hide, that might not be enough to win his suit or avoid an NCAA suspension.

Still, establishing his relative innocence might serve to shorten or eliminate a potential "show-cause" penalty. It might enable him to get another job coaching college basketball.

Though the Bowen case effectively cost both men their jobs, former university athletic director Tom Jurich says he continues to believe Pitino "didn't know anything about it." Jurich insists he would have fired Pitino if he thought he were involved in the bribery scheme, but his default setting is faith.

If Rick Pitino can persuade people he meant that, maybe that's the judgment he's really after.

Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650; tsullivan@courier-journal.com; Twitter: @TimSullivan714. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/tims

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December 2, 2017


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