LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Former University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino called the NCAA's decision to uphold sanctions against the school "unjust" and called on U of L officials to fight the ruling in court.
Reading a statement in the New York City law offices of Greenberg Traurig in mid-Manhattan Wednesday afternoon and then answering a few questions from reporters, Pitino said the U of L players "dedicated their lives" to winning the school's third NCAA title in 2013 and didn't deserve to have it vacated.
"I hope the university will not give up its fight and follow suit by taking this injustice to the courts and filing an injunction for that banner not to come down,” he said. “The NCAA cannot rewrite history by taking a banner down. Our players won those games by outplaying outstanding opponents."
The university has already taken down the championship banner that hung from the rafters in the KFC Yum! Center beside the Cardinal logo and banners from the 1980 and 1986 championship teams coached by Denny Crum. U of L will play its final home regular season game on March 1 against Virginia.
U of L athletics director Vince Tyra said he doesn't know what will happen to the banner, but the NCAA ruling doesn't allow it to be publicly displayed. This is the first time in Division I men's basketball history that a title has been vacated. U o fL also had to remove 123 wins - 108 in the regular season and 15 in the NCAA Tournament - from 2011-15, including the 2012 Final Four.
The sanctions stem from former director of basketball operations Andre McGee hiring strippers and prostitutes for parties for recruits and players in Minardi Hall on campus.
"These players dedicated their lives to try and win a national championship for all the right reasons," Pitino said. "Those parties did not enhance our players' ability to win a championship or go to a Final Four. This should not happen. This is unjust."
Pitino, 65, was fired by Louisville in October, along with athletics director Tom Jurich, in the wake of the FBI's investigation into a pay-for-play scandal in college basketball that implicated Louisville. That probe is still ongoing.
Pitino said he wants "all the facts, the truth to come out" about the "reprehensible" parties and that he "owns up" to his responsibility in the matter, although he again denied any knowledge of the violations.
"I hired the wrong person for the job, and that's on my shoulders and my responsibility," Pitino said. "I fully take ownership for the people I hire. I totally apologize and my heart breaks for everyone involved -- the players, an unbelievable fan base and the university."
Pitino added that he is cooperating "100 percent" with the current FBI investigation and said he has "nothing to hide."
Pitino defended his 40-year coaching legacy, noting that during his coaching tenure at Boston University, Providence and Kentucky there were never any NCAA problems, and he noted that he led UK back from NCAA probation and penalties to a national championship.
"I can understand sitting in your seat and saying, 'Look what happened back-to-back, in a very short span of time,'" Pitino told the reporters in the room. "And I would agree with you. It looks bad. But I've coached 41 years. And for 35, as a head coach, nothing has come up."
However, Pitino acknowledged that violations did occur in the dorm parties.
"Did a few of (the players) partake in parties they didn't organize? Yes, they did," Pitino said. "But that had nothing to do with an extra benefit. That had nothing to do with helping their eligibility or performance in winning that championship. My heart is broken and shattered for them."
In the 2013 Final Four in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Louisville - the overall No. 1 seed - defeated Wichita State 72-68 in the semifinals, then beat Michigan 82-76 for the title after the Wolverines had eliminated Syracuse. The Orange has also been stripped of its Final Four appearance by the NCAA for recruiting violations.
BILAS CRITICIZES NCAA ACTION
ESPN analyst Jay Williams argued Wednesday morning on ESPN’s First Take that UofL's punishment wasn’t nearly enough and suggested that the Cardinals should have received a 10-year ban and not been allowed to participate in the NCAA Tournament until 2028.
However, ESPN’s Rece Davis, who shares the College GameDay desk with Williams during basketball season, took to Twitter and called vacating games or championships “silly.”
Jay Bilas, another ESPN college basketball analyst, agreed with Davis in an article on ESPN.com, calling vacating the championship "a worthless exercise and a total waste of time."
"Everyone knows that Louisville won the 2013 national championship," Bilas wrote. "Those involved in the wrongdoing lost their careers. That is the effective deterrent, not pretending that games played were not played. Sanctioning the wrong people does not do anything."