A lot of people are concerned about what fired and disgraced Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino will do with that tattoo on his left shoulder. Social media is full of thoughts and concerns regarding the unfortunate tat that reads “2013 NCAA Champions 35-5” with a big ‘‘L’’ in red Louisville script.
The problem is that the NCAA ruled Tuesday that Pitino and Louisville must vacate the 2013 title, as well as 123 wins over several years because Pitino’s outlaw teams basically had no moral or ethical oversight from their filthy-rich leader.
The craziest part of the charges, which come from an investigation of more than a year, is this: The Cardinals’ coaches spent thousands of dollars on prostitutes for at least 17 recruits.
I have seen just about everything in the dark realm of money-driven, elite college sports, wherein the strangest system of free labor and mercenary coaches plus unrestricted, big-funding boosters has created a bizzarro-land cartel that has absolutely nothing to do with the academic mission of any university anywhere.
I recall high-powered weapons in athlete dorms, sexual assaults by All-Americans, under-the-table payments to athletes, drug-dealing by an Oklahoma star quarterback, faked test scores and papers, as well as a lot of drunken violence by players in campus bars.
But providing hookers to highly skilled teenagers is, for me, at least, the cherry on top.
Of course, Pitino says he knew nothing about any of this. All of his one-and-dones just came to Louisville for the camaraderie and a critical half-year of classroom fun.
It has been said that many things start as tragedy and end as comedy. Personally, I have to chuckle here in rueful cynicism. Hey, it’s big-time college ball!
My 27-year-old son, a former Division-I college athlete, was stunned with the news.
“Hookers?” he said in amazement while visiting from Texas. “If they sent a hooker to me when I was 17, I would have freaked completely. You kidding?”
Then he paused, already descending into protective sarcasm.
“Why didn’t Pitino just get some sorority girls?” he asked.
“No, that’s Florida,” I replied. “Or Alabama.”
Wrong, wrong, to say any of this. I apologize.
But what else can we do but find dark humor in such continued abuses? The dirty stuff never ends, you know. Despite all the good-hearted, idealistic academics who meet every so often, forming polite committees of concerned eggheads who serially condemn things like Pitino’s $8 million-a-year contract or the shoe money he takes from his athletes or — and I love this — his $450,000 Lexus LFA, an auto that, per reports, “can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in just under 3.7 seconds with a top speed of 202 mph.”
Hey, a coach needs to get out of town sometimes, right?
But the eggheads — faculty members, presidents, professors, social do-gooders — never win. They don’t have a clue about how to battle rough and ready business aggressors who never write editorials of dissent or whine to their mommies. They just go out and buy what they want.
And what they want is wins.
Hence the flourishing of slick coaches like Pitino or the blindness of icons like Joe Paterno or the cruelty of bullies like Bob Knight. “Amateur” big-time, revenue-producing sport has been attacked as unethical for more than 100 years.
And still the monster lurches onward.
There is an ongoing FBI investigation into the monetary corruption of collegiate basketball across the land, and it might hit a lot — a whole lot — of major schools with sanctions the likes of which they have never witnessed. We’ll see how that goes.
The Feds have so much power with subpoenas and the like that they always come away with a bundle of scalps. Will it make any difference in the long run? I doubt it.
You can forgive me if sometimes I get Pitino and Kentucky coach John Calipari confused. Pitino once was at Kentucky and Calipari at Memphis, and Calipari has had some games and titles forfeited. My wish would be for Al Pacino to play Pitino in a movie, with Robert De Niro doing Calipari, both acting in ways similar to their shootout scene in the movie, “Heat.”
The point here? Championships follow these guys. As do thrilling moments. Which is why they get paid. Which is why the cartel flourishes.
So maybe tattoos of shame are a simple tonic. Remember, Hester Prynne had to wear a red “A” for adultery back in the day.
So Pitino can flaunt his red “L’’ and get “oser” tattooed just behind it. Wear it, bud.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.