Basketball: College coach Rick Pitino, athletic director on leave over graft probe

Pitino attends the BIG3 basketball league championship game, Aug 26, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Pitino attends the BIG3 basketball league championship game, Aug 26, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Top US university basketball coach Rick Pitino and an athletic director were given their marching orders on Wednesday (Sept 27) following a corruption case which has rocked the lucrative world of college sport.

Pitino, a member of basketball's hall of fame following a glittering coaching career which included a stint in the NBA, was placed on unpaid administrative leave, University of Louisville interim president Greg Postel told reporters.

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich was placed on paid leave. Both Pitino and Jurich's statuses would be reviewed at a later date, Postel said.

"It's vital for this university to strictly adhere to NCAA and federal law," Postel told a press conference. "Doing nothing would be a tacit endorsement of unethical behaviour."

The suspensions came after federal prosecutors in New York on Tuesday announced details of a sprawling corruption scandal concerning player recruitment and equipment sponsorship bribes.

Prosecutors outlined what they described as the "dark underbelly of college basketball", with six-figure payoffs to teenage players made through a charity and other vehicles, and bribes and commissions paid in restaurants with envelopes stuffed with cash.

Felony charges were unveiled against a total of 10 people. Louisville University said Tuesday it had been informed that it was a focal point of the investigation.

In a statement on Tuesday, Pitino denied all knowledge of the fraud and corruption charges that brought the FBI to the campus.

"These allegations come as a complete shock to me," Pitino said in a statement.

"If true, I agree with the US Attorneys Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville.

"Our fans and supporters deserve better and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable."

Pitino is one of the most successful coaches in college basketball history, with a 416-143 record in 16 seasons as Louisville head coach. He joined Louisville after a four-year stint with the Boston Celtics between 1997 and 2001.

He was already on probation with Louisville following a sex scandal involving the hiring of strippers and escorts entertaining recruits and other players in dormitory rooms.

Pitino has denied involvement in that case, blaming the scandal on the actions of a staff member acting without his knowledge.