An ESPN “Outside the Lines” (OTL) report released on Oct. 20 blew the lid off an alleged recruiting scandal at the University of Louisville, the likes of which may have never been seen before. According to five former UL men’s basketball players and recruits, former graduate assistant coach Andre McGee paid for strippers at on-campus parties between 2010 and 2014, and even paid dancers to have sex with recruits and their parents.
Katrina Powell is the former escort who has admitted to these indiscretions in a book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,” which was published in early October. She claims that McGee paid her $10,000 during the four-year period for supplying the dancers, and additional money was paid to the dancers in exchange for sex.
This shocking story leaves many questions to be answered. Was the money McGee’s, or was it coming from someone else? How did no word of these parties get out before now, five years after they started and a year after they ended? Does this happen at other schools? How many people knew about these parties? Did head coach Rick Pitino know?
According to Powell, McGee claimed that Pitino was aware of the parties. That would throw yet another wrench into this incredible story.
Pitino’s son, Richard Pitino, currently the head coach of the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team, defended his father, saying Rick Pitino “knew nothing” about the allegations. But, Richard Pitino also brought up an important point about accountability for head coaches.
“Do I think that [head coaches] know everything? No, and I think it’s really difficult to do that,” he said. “But it’s on us. And it’s always going to be that way, unless they change the rules again.”
The NCAA is investigating the claims made by Powell, but we may not hear much about the findings for months. In the meantime, it seems that a discussion about the college recruiting process is necessary.
Louisville had the most profitable college basketball program in the country for the 2013-14 season, making roughly $24 million in profit on an approximate $40 million of revenue. That put the Cardinals roughly 35 percent ahead of second-place University of Arizona, which finished the year with $17.7 million in profit.
When a school is making good money off its college basketball program — which is rarer than you might think — there is pressure to keep up the success of the program in order to keep the money coming in. Could that be why McGee decided to spend thousands of dollars on these stripper parties, which was of course on top of and separate from the money the university had already spent on legitimate recruiting? There is a good chance.
In addition to the ethical questions surrounding the decision to host these lewd parties, there should be discussion about how the recruiting process affects the student-athletes that are being wooed by potential colleges and universities and even how it affects the school’s students who are not athletes.
College students, even athletes, are supposed to focus on studies first — but it is clear that for schools, the athletic performances of these students is more important than their grades — no matter what the athletic director or president might say. This hurts the athletes by devaluing their education, but it also can negatively impact other students who may look at how some of these bigger name athletes are given priority over them and feel lesser because of it. College is supposed to be about learning and earning a degree, and when athletes are given preferential treatment, it seems to imply that studies are not the most important part of the college experience.
This is not to say that athletes should not be valued. But rather they should not have a higher value in the mind of the school because of their ability to bring in money. When education becomes more about money than learning, you start to have a problem. And that problem can lead to situations such as Louisville’s, where the desire to win and to make money clouds the judgment of adults (read: coaches) who are supposed to be looking after their players, not throwing them stripper parties in order to recruit them, or to keep them happy once they have committed.