Paul Zeise: Why does the NCAA always punish schools but rarely coaches?

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Iona found itself needing to issue a statement about NCAA violations committed by men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino, even though he hasn’t coached a game for the school yet.

Pitino has a long, sordid history of NCAA trouble that dates back to the 1970s when he was an assistant coach at Hawaii. On Monday, his past was brought to light again when the NCAA gave both Pitino and his former school, Louisville, notice of violations in the “pay to play” scandal that ultimately got Pitino fired.

Pitino has had NCAA troubles since at least 1976 when he was just starting out in his coaching career. Here are the details as laid out in that article:

“In 1989, the Lexington Herald-Leader and the New York Times cited a 1977 NCAA report on sanctions against the University of Hawaii. According to the report, Pitino was implicated in eight of the 64 infractions that led the university to be placed on probation. The violations involving Pitino included providing round-trip air fare for a player between New York and Honolulu, arranging for student-athletes to receive used cars for season tickets, and handing out coupons to players for free food at McDonald’s.”

Pitino graduated from giving out free McDonald’s food and used cars to hosting parties with strippers and prostitutes for prospective recruits at Louisville. He was also involved in some sort of unsavory relationship with a woman who married one of his assistant coaches and it ended up in court and became an embarrassment to Louisville.

These are just some of the things that Pitino got caught doing, so who knows what else has gone on under his watch during his career? Pitino has clearly always had a funny interpretation of the rules and never really cared much about following them.

Iona, though, decided to hire Pitino earlier this year and for an obvious reason: he is a Hall of Fame coach. And despite his scandals, he will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time. Iona would have no shot at hiring a guy with his resume as a coach if he also didn’t have a resume that makes him toxic.

And now Iona, too, is in the middle of this mess and having to defend itself. There is an old saying that goes something like, “If you lay down with dogs, you are bound to get fleas,” and, well, Iona learned this lesson the hard way.

Iona’s administration knew the risks when they hired Pitino. They knew they were hiring a coach who could face some sort of sanctions from the NCAA. They knew they were hiring a coach who has had a long history of breaking rules. Yet they hired him anyway and even had the nice touch of putting their heads in the sand.

Iona athletics director Matt Glovaski was asked by ESPN whether he was worried about a show cause penalty for Pitino when he was hired, and he answered, “We have no reason to believe that would happen.”

Glovaski probably wasn’t wrong. Pitino won’t get a show cause penalty, at least not one that has any teeth. And that is why he — and every coach like him — continues to get jobs. Iona knows the most the NCAA might do to Pitino is give him some silly recruiting restrictions for a year, and maybe a short suspension.

Meanwhile, Chris Mack and his Louisville team, which has done nothing wrong, will likely get a postseason ban this year and have other sanctions put in place, and that’s ridiculous. Louisville handled the problem by firing the main problem, Pitino, and cleaned house in order to get into compliance with the NCAA.

Pitino should get a two-year suspension at the least. The same thing should have happened to Jim Boeheim a few years back when he became a multi-time cheater. Instead, Boeheim got a nine-game suspension and was back coaching Syracuse by the end of December. There are many more examples all over the country of coaches who should be sitting out but are not.

The NCAA’s decisions to take away scholarships and postseason appearances after the fact is misguided. The NCAA could and should handle the problem by hitting the coaches who cheat, especially multiple offenders.

There should be no incentive for a school like Iona to hire a toxic coach like Pitino. The NCAA needs to stop hammering programs and start hammering the men who guide them.

Until then, the Ionas of the world will continue to hire the Pitinos of the world, and I don’t blame them, either. Iona knows Louisville will burn for Pitino’s past transgressions, while he will get a slap on the wrist and be back to lead the Gaels to new heights in no time — because that’s the nonsensical way the NCAA does business.


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