Louisville could lose its 2013 NCAA title, and Cardinals coach Rick Pitino will be suspended for the first five ACC games in 2017-18 for failing to monitor his program during an alleged sex-for-pay scandal, the Division I Committee on Infractions announced Thursday.
Louisville announced it will appeal the ruling.
The NCAA decision opens the strong possibility that Louisville could lose its 2012-13 national championship after the committee issued "a vacation of basketball records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible from December 2010 and July 2014." The NCAA said the school must provide a list of games impacted by the decision within 45 days, and if ineligible players participated, the school could have to remove its banner and erase the title from its record books.
To date, no national championship has ever been vacated in men's Division I basketball (only Final Four appearances), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
In addition, the program will be on probation for four years. The Cardinals also will face scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions, a $5,000 fine and the forfeiture of any money received though conference revenue sharing from the 2012-15 NCAA tournaments.
The committee also accepted Louisville's self-imposed postseason ban from the 2015-16 season. The NCAA did not impose further postseason sanctions on the Cardinals.
Chuck Smrt, the former NCAA enforcement director who is now leading Louisville's defense against the committee's charges, said 108 regular-season games and 15 NCAA tournament wins could be vacated as a result of the NCAA's decision, but he reiterated the school's plans to appeal.
"For 35-some-odd years I've had a lot of faith in the NCAA and have reacted that way accordingly as a head basketball coach in the belief of their rules," Pitino said Thursday during the school's news conference. "Not only is it unjust ... over-the-top severe, but personally I've lost a lot of faith in the NCAA that I've had over the last 35 years with what they just did.
"I'm gonna put all my faith in the appeals committee that they will do the right thing. ... We believe we will win the appeal because it is right, it is just. What went on [the NCAA's ruling] was unjust, inconceivable."
The NCAA ruled that Pitino "violated NCAA head coach responsibility rules" by failing to monitor the activities of former assistant Andre McGee, who is alleged to have hired strippers to entertain players and recruits.
Katina Powell, the self-described former escort at the center of the scandal, alleged that McGee paid her $10,000 for 22 shows at the Cardinals' dormitory from 2010 to '14, a period that includes their NCAA title run.
"Without dispute, NCAA rules do not allow institutional staff members to arrange for stripteases and sex acts for prospects, enrolled student-athletes and/or those who accompany them to campus," the panel said in its decision.
Louisville interim president Greg Postel issued a statement Thursday saying he believes the penalties levied by the NCAA "went beyond what we consider to be fair and reasonable."
A source familiar with the testimony of three of the former Louisville recruits to NCAA investigators told ESPN's John Barr that he can't believe Pitino's penalties aren't worse.
"Five games? If I could do these things and get a five-game suspension, why not cheat?" the source told ESPN. "We have a head coach and a program that skated. If academic fraud is bad, how do prostitution and higher education mix? This was as bad or worse than any academic fraud."
In its ruling Thursday, the Committee on Infractions ruled McGee "acted unethically when he committed serious violations by arranging striptease dances and sex acts for prospects, student-athletes and others, and did not cooperate with the investigation."
McGee received a 10-year show cause penalty.
"The entire UofL community is saddened by what took place. It never should have happened, and that is why the school acted to severely penalize itself in 2016," Postel said in his statement. "Today, however, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions went beyond what we consider to be fair and reasonable. We intend to appeal all aspects of the penalties."
Pitino's penalty -- he will not be allowed to have any contact with his team during the suspension -- is similar to those handed down to Larry Brown and Jim Boeheim, who were suspended for nine games following failure to monitor charges related to separate academic scandals at SMU and Syracuse.
"I plan on winning multiple championships, not just one. I plan on going to multiple Final Fours, not just one," Pitino said. "That's what leaders do: They lead the players they are coaching, they ask for forgiveness for what happened.
"I know the committee was sickened by it, but so were we. But we did not deserve what they gave us, and that's the bottom line. They made a very large mistake and our faith has to be put in the hands of the committee, going forward, of appeals. Because we are just as disappointed as went on as the committee was. But we did not deserve any of this at all. We will fight every single bit to the end and we will move forward because that's what leaders do."
Louisville had fervently contested the NCAA's allegations against Pitino, who had told the NCAA Committee on Infractions that he lacked the ability to uncover the details of McGee's alleged arrangement of promiscuous parties with strippers and escorts for prospective recruits during a four-year stretch between 2010 and 2014.
Pitino's attorney, Scott Tompsett, said the coach also plans to appeal the penalty.
"The finding against Coach Pitino is one of the weakest I've ever seen against a head coach," Tompsett's statement said. "... The decision does not identify a single specific thing that Coach Pitino should have done, that he wasn't already doing, that would have either prevented or detected the illicit activities. The secret and deliberately hidden illicit activities certainly did not occur because Coach Pitino did not properly train Mr. McGee.
"Today's decision breaks with established head coach control precedent and imposes a standard of strict liability."
McGee never spoke to the NCAA.
"The person responsible for these activities, Andre McGee, long ago left the university, and he has yet to cooperate with investigating officials," Postel's statement said. "We are disappointed that he was not cooperative. In contrast, UofL did cooperate. We wanted the NCAA Enforcement Staff to uncover what happened. We have been open and transparent throughout this process."
The panel also had harsh comments about McGee's actions in its decision.
"NCAA members agree that schools must provide a safe, healthy and positive environment for their student-athletes, not only academically, but in all facets of their lives," the panel said. "The former operations director, the individual entrusted to keep order at Minardi Hall, created an environment that has no place on a college campus and was directly at odds with college athletics and higher education."
But the Committee on Infractions also said Pitino did not meet his monitoring responsibility by "simply trusting an individual to know NCAA rules and to do the right thing."
"By his own admission, the head coach was unaware of what occurred in Minardi Hall from 10 p.m. until the following morning, but he often had contact with the visiting prospects on the day following their overnight stays in Minardi Hall," the NCAA's report stated.
The allegations about the program came to light when Powell published her book, "Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen," in 2015.
The book detailed how she and her associates had accepted invites and compensation from McGee to attend parties for more than a dozen recruits at Billy Minardi Hall, where they danced and had sex with the some of the young men.
"I cannot help but wonder if the lack of contrition demonstrated by the university's athletics staff contributed to the severity of these penalties," Larry Wilder, the attorney for Powell, told ESPN on Thursday. "It seems that an immediate acceptance of responsibility by the head coach of the program may have softened the blow and possibly sent a signal to the NCAA that there was a true acceptance of responsibility."
Powell and McGee will not be criminally charged after a grand jury in Jefferson County, Kentucky, declined to return an indictment against either because of the lack of sufficient credible evidence.
"Today should mark the end of this process for everyone involved," Wilder said Thursday. "The NCAA has spoken, and it would seem that it's time to learn from these events and move on."
ESPN reporter John Barr and The Associated Press contributed to this report.