Louisville players sue NCAA for implying connections to prostitution scandal

Five members of the 2013 Louisville men’s basketball team are suing the NCAA, alleging they have been held in “false light,” a civil claim similar to defamation, after the team was stripped of its national championship in the aftermath of a scandal involving an assistant coach who hired strippers to entertain Louisville recruits.

The suit claims that in stripping Louisville of its championship, the NCAA “implied that the Plaintiffs engaged in lewd and lascivious behavior, that the Plaintiffs received improper benefits, that the Plaintiffs competed while ineligible and the Plaintiffs are not champions.” The suit seeks a declaration that the players “are completely innocent of any wrongdoing as implied by the NCAA” and that the championships and awards won during the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons remain intact.

According to the suit, the players further seek “damages for loss of economic opportunity” that resulted from the NCAA’s punishments against the program.

Stacey Osburn, the NCAA’s director of public and media relations, said, “We have not yet been served and so do not have a comment.”

Of the five players named in the suit — Luke Hancock, Gorgui Dieng, Stephan van Treese, Tim Henderson and Michael Marra — only Hancock was present at Wednesday’s news conference here at the Galt House Hotel.

Hancock, now a financial advisor, expressed his frustration that his personal reputation had been damaged by the NCAA’s actions.

“It’s been five years, and I can’t tell you two days where I’ve gone without having someone coming to me to ask me if I had strippers or prostitutes in the dorm,” he said.

Hancock was named the most outstanding player of the 2013 Final Four, and the suit claims the NCAA “implied to the public (and still to this date has failed to clarify to the public) that Plaintiff Hancock had his MOP award vacated due to Plaintiff Hancock’s implied actions.” The suit seeks declaration that Hancock retains his award.

In June 2017, the NCAA Committee on Infractions panel released a report confirming that former director of basketball operations Andre McGee arranged for dancing or sex acts in an on-campus dormitory for three players, 15 recruits — at least seven of whom were underage — a friend of one prospect and two coaches not associated with the school. The report also cited then-head coach Rick Pitino for his failure to monitor the acts of his assistant, and the NCAA suspended Pitino for five games.

The school appealed, but this past February, the NCAA Infractions Appeal Committee upheld the punishments, making Louisville the first program in modern NCAA history to vacate a national championship.

Pitino was fired in September 2017 in the wake of unrelated accusations that an executive from Adidas, which outfits the Cardinals’ athletic teams, and others conspired to steer top recruits to Louisville.

The players in the lawsuit are represented by John Morgan, an attorney based in Orlando whose firm, Morgan & Morgan, practices in Kentucky, where the suit has been filed. Morgan, a self-described “giant killer,” spoke at length Wednesday to recast the scandals that have roiled Louisville athletics for years into an attack on the integrity of the NCAA, which Morgan repeatedly called “corrupt” and “morally bankrupt” and responsible for “exploitation of teenagers for big money.”

When asked about sentiment among Louisville fans that this chapter of the program’s history be left in the past, Hancock suggested that “they should turn the TV off. They don’t have to live with it every day.”

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