J. David Grissom, chairman of the university board of trustees, says new leadership and new board are
‘committed to open and honest action.’
David Grissom made the tough calls without flinching. He pushed through the firings of Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich like a man in a hurry to plug a parking meter. He ran the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees with a steely resolve to remake an institution in need of reform.
But if former U of L President James Ramsey told him that a trustee had funded the infamous sex parties of Katina Powell – as Grissom testified last month during a deposition made public Monday – his failure to follow up is both inexplicable and indefensible.
To believe Ramsey dropped that bombshell on the board chairman is to wonder why Grissom would not have asked – demanded, really – that the culprit be identified. It is to wonder why a man so quick to judge would be so slow to investigate. It is to wonder why Grissom would imperil U of L during successive NCAA infractions cases by withholding information suggestive of board-level corruption and “a lack of institutional control.”
More: David Grissom: James Ramsey said U of L trustee supplied money for Katina Powell strippers
Ramsey’s attorney, Steve Pence, calls Grissom’s story a “complete fabrication.” It is, at a minimum, bizarre and baffling.
While being deposed in U of L’s lawsuit against Ramsey, Grissom claimed Ramsey told him a trustee had been the “cash source” for the strippers and prostitutes who visited Billy Minardi Hall to entertain basketball players and recruits. Yet when pressed for the name of that trustee, Grissom repeatedly refused to answer until he had made an abrupt course correction after being reminded he was under oath (and still licensed to practice law).
Suddenly, Grissom claimed he had neither been told nor inquired about the individual’s identity. At best, this would qualify as what Captain Von Trapp called “a deplorable lack of curiosity” when confronted by the Nazis in “The Sound of Music.” At worst, it was dereliction of duty.
“It would be a question I’d consider asking,” former U of L trustee Bill Stone acknowledged Monday.
Stone defended Grissom for taking a “responsible” stance by not bringing an unconfirmed rumor into a U of L board meeting, where “innuendo then becomes fact.” Yet that wouldn’t explain Grissom failing to press Ramsey for details – assuming the exchange he described actually took place – or to report the conversation to U of L’s compliance staff and the NCAA.
NCAA bylaw 19.2.2 states, “Each institution has an affirmative obligation to report all instances of noncompliance to the Association in a timely manner.” Grissom’s deposition took place more than 17 months after the NCAA rejected U of L’s appeal of its penalties.
“It could have helped Louisville a lot for this to come out sooner,” said Ohio University professor David Ridpath, a former compliance office and past president of the Drake Group. “The fact that it’s coming out later really hurts.
“There is a statute of limitations on violations, but there’s no statute of limitations on something that I think this could potentially fit in: (team) eligibility or lack of institutional control. This could conceivably be something that the NCAA would want more information on. And that could – that’s a big if – that could lead to other sanctions. It’s a potential bombshell, but they’ve got to prove it.”
Because Grissom’s story is short on specifics, and Ramsey disputes its slender substance, finding proof of a trustee’s involvement figures to be a daunting task. Though it has always seemed unlikely that former basketball assistant Andre McGee financed Powell’s parties without help – or, indeed, that former assistant Kenny Johnson would have paid Brian Bowen’s dad $1,300 (as alleged) out of his own pocket – following the money has thus far led only to dead ends.
If a trustee was complicit in potential infractions, or merely willing to provide funds without asking too many questions about the purpose, investigators produced no allegations on that score.
“College athletics is like a drug,” Ridpath said. “Even though they know they might get caught, (people) are still willing to take a risk. And if you’re a trustee member and think this could happen and no one would find out about it, people will do some crazy things.
Also: The ‘pizza guy’ is out. David Grissom is no longer chairman. Could Rick Pitino return now?
“I don’t put this past a board of trustee member because they’re often the biggest problem at a lot of schools because they want the luxury box, they want the junkets, they want to be involved with all the good feeling. If that means you’ve got to bend the rules a little bit, there have been plenty of examples of trustees doing that.”
There is at least one example of a board chairman not looking as closely as he could.
Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650, firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @TimSullivan714. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/tims.