The “Firing” of Rick Pitino
Admission #1: I am a diehard University of Kentucky basketball fan. This is important for the remainder of the article.
I have very mixed thoughts about the UofL/Pitino situation. I fell in love with Kentucky Basketball when Pitino was there, and he won UK 1.5 NCAA titles (giving him partial credit for ’98 even though it was Tubby’s team then). I had a news article from the Cincinnati Enquirer of his leaving UK for the NBA hanging in my closet as a kid with all of my dance medals, basketball trophies, academic awards, etc. The article is surely now in my bin of keepsakes and I have an overwhelming desire to dig it out. I really loved the man for introducing me to one of my passions in life and as a 10 year old was pretty upset when he left the program.
Of course when he took the UofL job, he became enemy #1, slightly behind Christian Laettner/Duke. The rivalry was awesome since they took our former coach. The programs fed off of each other. The wins were so high and the losses were so painful. And then 2012 happened. Not only did I go to see my first UK vs UofL game live, but it was in New Orleans for the Final Four. The only way that could have been better is if we beat them in the title game, instead of Kansas. I loved to hate Pitino and the Cards. After the scandals he endured (Karen Sypher, Katina Powell, and now this), Louisville stood by his side and gave him chance after chance. I would have expected nothing less from the successful program to protect such a beloved coach. The state needed Pitino at Louisville. After all, there was no hard evidence that he had anything to do with the infractions. Did that matter? No way. He was guilty as sin the minute each story came out, if by nothing other than association.
Admission # 2: Again, Kentucky fan speaking here. I am honestly, truly saddened to see him go, especially under these circumstances.
But this is bigger than Pitino and bigger than Louisville and bigger than Adidas and bigger than the rivalry. This could blow the NCAA up. The FBI is supposedly investigating a dozen or more people involved across many different programs. Someone is going to sell out someone else and dominoes will fall. Multiple programs are going to be cited, agents are going to lose jobs, universities are going to lose coaches and scholarships, and the NCAA as we know it will be going through some serious soul searching to decide how to proceed. This isn’t just one program and one offense. This is a huge bomb that has only begun to detonate. I’m afraid of what will be left when the explosion is over.
Back to the 2012 National Title. I called my boyfriend-at-the-time, an avid Cincinnati fan, as my fellow Big Blue fans and I excitedly left the Superdome for Bourbon Street. The first thing out of his mouth was “how long til this title gets stripped because of Calipari?” Needless to say, our relationship did not work out. Although I am happy to talk crap with other fans being a UK fan in UC and XU country, I have heard it every year for the last 5 seasons. “Calipari is a crook.” “UK pays their players.” “You really think Coach Cal can just get all these recruits for nothing?” I get it. It happened at UMass and Memphis, so UK had to be next. Cal was a program killer by reputation, and so far he had gotten away unscathed. I always laughed off these bantered accusations. “Haha, yeah, I guess we’ll see what happens, but I definitely saw them win the title, so even if they take it away, they can’t take away my memories and pictures.”
So what if Louisville is stripped of their 2013 title and 2012 Final Four appearance and who knows what else? What if a dozen other schools are, too? What if my beloved Kentucky loses their 2012 title and subsequent Final Four and Title appearances? Does that mean they didn’t win and lose those games? Does that mean the fans weren’t there or watching from home? Did those players not earn the title of champion? Did March Madness brackets lie to us all? You can’t erase the very real games that happened. Especially if this involves as many schools as I’m afraid that it does.
Admission #3: It can’t just be Louisville and Pitino; it can’t just be Coach Cal and his former programs. This is happening everywhere. Some programs are just better than others at hiding it.
So what next? This is the opening tip-off to what is going to be a very long game the FBI is playing. The problem is, the losers in this game are going to be the athletes and the fan bases. Let’s hope my Wildcats survive. Let’s hope the NCAA survives.