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Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer 31d

Rick Pitino sues Adidas over company's dealings with recruits

Men's College Basketball, Louisville Cardinals

Former Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Adidas, claiming damages caused by the apparel company's improper dealings with recruits.

Pitino and his attorney, Steve Pence, told ESPN's Jay Bilas that the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville, Kentucky, seeks unspecified actual damages, punitive damages and attorney's fees.

Pitino was fired Monday by Louisville in the wake of an FBI investigation of bribery and fraud in college basketball related to the steering of recruits to Adidas, sports agents and financial advisers. Shortly after the school's athletics board voted to fire Pitino, Adidas announced that it was ending its personal services agreement with the Hall of Fame coach.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported last month that Pitino received 98 percent of the cash -- about $1.5 million annually for five years -- that the university received from its expiring apparel deal with Adidas. The university and an Adidas spokesman told ESPN that a new apparel deal with the school -- a 10-year, $160 million pact announced in late August -- has different terms that earmark nearly all of the money to the school.

In the lawsuit, Pitino's attorneys allege that Adidas employees' "outrageous conduct" to funnel money to the family of a recruit without his knowledge caused "grave damage to his public and private standing and reputation, causing him extreme embarrassment, humiliation, and emotional distress."

"[Pitino] has never authorized, tolerated, participated in, or otherwise condoned giving improper benefits to recruits or players, or to their families, especially as an inducement to have recruits join the University of Louisville men's basketball program," the lawsuit says.

"The lawsuit is about more than just money; it is Coach Pitino's vehicle for proving that he had nothing to do with Adidas' outrageous, wrongful, and illegal conspiracy."

A spokesperson for Adidas said in a statement: "Mr. Pitino's lawsuit is clearly a reaction to his termination yesterday and is without merit."

The player isn't identified in Pitino's lawsuit, but he is believed to be five-star freshman Brian Bowen, who committed to Louisville in early June. Bowen, from LaPorte, Indiana, was suspended indefinitely last month, shortly after the FBI arrested 10 men, including four assistant coaches and Adidas executive Jim Gatto.

Pitino, 65, has $44 million remaining in salary and bonuses from Louisville in a contract extension through the 2025-26 season. Louisville interim president Greg Postel said the university's athletics board did not discuss a buyout for Pitino.

Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 national championship and two other appearances in the Final Four, was placed on unpaid administrative leave on Sept. 27 after the program was linked to the FBI's investigation into fraud and corruption. On Oct. 2, the University of Louisville Athletic Association (ULAA) began the process to terminate Pitino for cause.

The allegations against Louisville involve Gatto, Adidas employee Merl Code and others conspiring to make $100,000 in improper payments to Bowen's family. In the lawsuit, Pitino's attorneys said he knew Gatto and has communicated with him, "but at no time have Coach Pitino and Gatto discussed -- overtly, covertly, in code, through nuance, or in any other way -- the provision of improper benefits to any University of Louisville basketball player or recruit."

"It is and was in Adidas' interest to have the teams for schools that Adidas outfits succeed, especially because high-profile television coverage of championship events would show athletes wearing Adidas products," the lawsuit says. "It likewise is and was in Adidas' interest for top athletes to attend schools that Adidas outfits, because that would increase the chance of those teams' success. And it was in Adidas' long-term interest to build relationships with recruits early in their careers in order to influence them to sign contracts with Adidas once they became professional athletes."

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