Louisville's fall always comes back to Rick Pitino

Rick Pitino was not on the Louisville campus Tuesday to denounce the 2013 NCAA championship banner coming down, or the vacated wins, or the hundreds of thousands of dollars the school must pay for a sex scandal that involved prostitutes, strippers, recruits and players.

Though he has been gone for months, the NCAA's decision to uphold the penalties handed down by the committee on infractions comes one step closer to closing the sordid, scandalous chapter that Pitino authored as Louisville basketball coach.

There can be no other way to view his 16 years with the Cardinals, no matter how vehemently both he and his defenders scream that he has been vilified and misjudged. Pitino harmed Louisville in many ways, staining its reputation, triggering multiple investigations and now this: a national title and 2012 Final Four appearance stricken from the record books.

A quick look back at his career there shows:

  • Pitino's adulterous sex scandal;

  • A sex scandal in the program that led the NCAA to vacate a college basketball title for the first time in history;

  • A recruiting scandal that led to his departure, after an FBI investigation into bribery and fraud in college basketball implicated Louisville.

Pitino has not once taken responsibility for the sex parties that happened during recruiting visits and drew the NCAA to investigate. He also has denied any knowledge in the recruiting scandal that cost him his job. In fact, Pitino is suing the University of Louisville Athletic Association for $37.6 million for breach of contract after he was fired in October.

As much as Pitino won at Louisville, all those victories seem meaningless and his legacy forever tainted, especially now that the banner must come down. Some may wonder what purpose vacating wins, and ultimately a championship, serves. After all, the game did happen: Louisville did beat Michigan in the title game and Luke Hancock did win MVP honors. The celebration, the tears, the joy, all those memories will endure even after the banner goes.

But the NCAA views vacating wins a completely different way. Forcing a program to strip a beloved championship feels more like a shiv to the heart, and that is the point. It should hurt, and it should serve as a reminder to anyone who looks up into the rafters at a suddenly blank space: Cheaters must face the consequences. Just ask the USC football program.

Josephine Potuto, a law professor at Nebraska, said when she served on the NCAA committee on infractions, they ended up doing more when it came to vacating wins.

"Initially, everybody thought this is something additional we can do, but it's not going to have much impact," said Potuto, who served as committee chair from 2006 to '08. "We were all wrong. It has a lot of impact. Schools don't want to lose those wins. Coaches don't want to lose those wins, and they fight like crazy over the vacation. It has more impact than you may be giving it credit for, particularly if they're going to lose a national championship off it."

In his comments about the NCAA's ruling Tuesday, interim university president Greg Postel seemed almost resigned to the penalties. Multiple times he called what happened appalling, and though he said Louisville did everything in its power to fight, the NCAA has wide latitude on the penalties it hands down. That is especially true in a case without any real precedent. Indeed, in rejecting the appeal, the NCAA found the committee on infractions was "within its legislated authority to prescribe the vacation of records and financial penalty."

"You have to run a clean program," Postel said. "If there's a problem, you're going to be called into question."

That's exactly what happened here. Anybody who read the entire 35-page report from the committee on infractions should be disgusted with what was allowed to go on while Pitino was the head coach. Former director of basketball operations Andre McGee was the ringleader in arranging more than a dozen sex parties featuring strippers and prostitutes for players and recruits, many underage.

The committee called McGee's actions "disgusting and inexcusable," "repugnant" and "disgraceful." Though Pitino claims no knowledge, as the head coach he bears the brunt of the responsibility. The NCAA suspended him five conference games, a punishment he is no longer appealing.

Being out of a job, with his career most likely done, probably has something to do with that.

Now that the NCAA has ruled on this appeal, it would be ideal for everyone at Louisville to move on and begin the necessary work to repair the damage done to the program itself. The only way to do that is to not just face the consequences, but accept them.

Except there is something else.

Pitino didn't lose his job after his own sex scandal made headlines in 2009. He didn't lose his job after the NCAA began investigating the program over these scandalous prostitute and stripper sex parties McGee set up. No, it took an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball that implicated Pitino and Louisville for the school to finally part ways with him.

The ruling Tuesday is only a resolution to one investigation. The FBI investigation remains open, and it's quite possible the NCAA will come back to Louisville again. As ESPN's Mark Schlabach reported last week, the FBI investigation "could result in potential NCAA violations for as many as three dozen Division I programs."

Rick Pitino may have won a lot of games at Louisville. He may have brought in millions of dollars. And the basketball team's success may have been instrumental in helping move Louisville into the ACC. But Louisville has paid a price, too.

The real Rick Pitino brought shame to the basketball program, and to the university. And that is something that won't go away until we know the true scope of his actions.