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David Whitley: Rick Pitino learns ignorance is not bliss

Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino is left to ponder whether he really should have known what was going on under his watch. (Robert Franklin / Associated Press)
Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino is left to ponder whether he really should have known what was going on under his watch. (Robert Franklin / Associated Press)
By David Whitley Tribune News Service

Welcome to Rick’s Cafe, where the proprietor is shocked, shocked that there are sex parties going on.

Rick would be Rick Pitino and the cafe would be Billy Minardi Hall, the dorm where Louisville basketball recruits were treated to parties that would make the Playboy Mansion blush.

The “shocked, shocked” line is from Casablanca, of course. It’s inevitably invoked when somebody pretends to know nothing. That brings up another overused reference: Sergeant Schultz from “Hogan’s Heroes.”

I hate to go double-cliche here, but it’s the best way to illustrate why some of the most famous college coaches in America have been starring in “The NCAA’s Most Wanted.”

There was Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and SMU’s Larry Brown. Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze is on deck to become the next football coach/convict.

Before them, there should have been Pete Carroll, Joe Paterno, Barry Switzer, Roy Williams, Jerry Tarkanian, almost anyone wearing a Miami Hurricanes’ cap and on and on and on.

They pled ignorance when the NCAA found their programs had gone rogue. To quote Sgt. Schultz, they knew nothing, NOTHING!

That used to be good enough for coaches to escape a lot of punishment even if their programs got hammered. Then the NCAA finally got tired of the excuse-mongering in 2013.

It came up with Bylaw 11.1.1.1, which allows it to suspend a head coach for major violations regardless of whether the coach was directly aware of the wrongdoing.

So long, plausible deniability.

Hello, ultimate responsibility.

It lies with the man (or woman) at the top.

The rationale is that even if they didn’t know, they should have known. Though I believe Pitino when he says he didn’t know an underling was turning recruiting trips into “Girls Gone Wild” bacchanalias.

(My favorite line in the AP story: “Players deemed ineligible would be those involved in the sex parties, which are considered impermissible benefits.”).

There’s no way Pitino would have let the impermissible benefits continue if he’d known about them. The repercussions would have been too devastating.

The thing is, Pitino should have known about it. Just as know-nothing Paterno should have seen the sicko red flags Jerry Sandusky was waving at Penn State, and Carroll should have been suspicious about Reggie Bush’s living arrangements.

They didn’t know because they didn’t really want to know. That doesn’t cut it any longer.

The NCAA rule states a head coach is presumed responsible “unless the coach can show that he or she promoted an atmosphere of compliance and monitored his or her staff.”

Pitino’s “monitoring” apparently consisted of telling a low-level assistant to have visiting recruits tucked into bed by 2 a.m., preferably without a hooker.

“By his own admission, the head coach and his assistants did not interact with prospects from 10 p.m. until the next morning,” the NCAA report said. “The panel noted that the head coach essentially placed a peer of the student-athletes in a position of authority over them and visiting prospects, and assumed that all would behave appropriately in an environment that was, for all practical purposes, a basketball dorm.”

Sounds as if for all practical purposes it was a brothel.

Louisville/Rick’s Cafe already did a mea culpa, but its self-imposed penalties didn’t satisfy the NCAA. It slapped additional sanctions on the Cardinals Thursday, including a five-game suspension for Sgt. Pitino.

The Cardinals might even be stripped of their 2013 NCAA Championship. That thought has Kentucky fans doing lap dances as John “I’ve Never Been Personally Sanctioned By the NCAA” Calipari tries not to double over in laughter.

“We are devastated by the news,” Pitino said. “We will appeal because it’s right and it’s just, and what went on was unjust and inconceivable.”

Yeah, yeah.

That might have worked in the old days. But now when coaches run down the stairs and tell the NCAA they were oblivious to shenanigans, well, let me invoke one more famous line from a movie.

Frankly my dear Rick, they don’t give a damn.

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