Ex-Louisville star Russ Smith's open letter is well-intentioned but unpersuasive

Russ Smith (2) celebrates advancing to the 2013 Final Four with his teammates and Rick Pitino. (AP)

Two days after Louisville learned it will be stripped of the 2013 national title unless it wins a last-ditch appeal, one of the biggest stars of that team wrote a heartfelt but largely unpersuasive open letter in defense of his former school.

Ex-first-team All-American Russ Smith argued the NCAA shouldn’t have punished Louisville so harshly because the Cardinals players and recruits could not have known the women Andre McGee brought to their dorm were being paid to dance for or have sex with them.

“These women [posed] as friends and friends only, to my understanding,” Smith wrote in a letter published Saturday by the Louisville Courier-Journal. “We meet many people every day, some in and outside of our dormitory. Yes, I’ve had parties in my dorm and invited sororities, frats, people in the West End, East End … it’s college and you meet people. Some people want to be with you because of your name or the letters in the front of your jersey.

“The women were in our dorm because they were around the campus and the athletes and nothing more. Whatever transpired between them and whoever else was their decision. I strongly believe they did not get paid for this. (I may be wrong.) And if they did, that is also between Mr. McGee and Ms. [Katina] Powell and not any of my brothers. If the mother pimps out her daughters without anyone knowing that, how can my brothers be at any type of fault? Ms. Powell acted discreetly.”

Smith added to his argument on Twitter over the weekend. (Some of his language is NSFW)

Louisville’s punishment is the culmination of an investigation that began in August 2015 when school officials learned that escort Katina Powell was set to release a tell-all book. Powell’s book alleged that former Louisville basketball staffer Andre McGee paid for strippers and escorts to dance for or have sex with Cardinals players and recruits at parties typically held in the on-campus basketball dorm named for Pitino’s late brother-in-law.

In addition to vacating four years worth of victories including a 2012 Final Four appearance and the 2013 national title, the NCAA also suspended Louisville coach Rick Pitino for the first five ACC games next season and implemented recruiting limitations and scholarship reductions. Louisville announced it will appeal the sanctions less than an hour after receiving them.

It’s admirable that Smith would try to stick up for his school, but it’s also pretty easy to poke holes in his argument.

First of all, Louisville has never argued McGee didn’t pay Powell and her escorts. The school has only tried to paint him as a rogue employee acting without the knowledge of Pitino or other members of the coaching staff.

Secondly, while there’s no doubt Louisville players had no problem attracting women on campus, it’s very difficult to believe they had no idea these women were being paid to entertain them. Was it a coincidence the strippers showed up in the basketball dorm anytime that a marquee recruit visited campus?

And even if the Louisville players and recruits were somehow duped into believing that Powell’s band of strippers and escorts were merely ordinary groupies looking for a good time, that doesn’t mean the program should escape penalty.

A staffer Pitino hired and placed in the basketball dorm paid strippers to perform dances and sex acts in an effort to persuade key recruits as young as 16 years old to pick the Cardinals over other top programs. Whether Pitino was complicit or merely grossly negligent, Louisville should have to pay a stiff price for those actions.

Of course Smith doesn’t see it that way, arguing in his letter that “the NCAA’s final decision was wrong.”

Said Smith, “I think our wins should be kept and not vacated, and that the punishment should go toward the way of the adults who had set everything up.”

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!