LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CN) – Five former University of Louisville basketball players sued the NCAA on Wednesday, claiming it cannot revoke their 2013 national championship because of a prostitution scandal that left the program in tatters.
The lawsuit – filed by Luke Hancock, Gorgui Dieng, Stephan Van Treese, Tim Henderson and Michael Marra – seeks a judgment that the players are “completely innocent of any wrongdoing as implied by the NCAA.” The former student-athletes are represented by attorneys with Morgan & Morgan in Lexington, Kentucky.
The Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball team had its 2013 national title, along with wins from several seasons, vacated by the NCAA after a string of scandals involving former head coach Rick Pitino.
In June 2017, the school was sanctioned for the actions of an assistant coach who hired female escorts for player and recruits and hosted parties in one of the team’s dorms.
The university was later targeted by the FBI following allegations that Pitino and athletic sponsor Adidas funneled money to a recruit to get him to sign with the school.
Pitino was placed on administrative leave and fired in October 2017. He filed suit against the school in December, seeking over $38 million for breach of contract.
The former players in Wednesday’s Jefferson County Circuit Court lawsuit claim the NCAA improperly implied they were involved in the escort scandal, even though it knew they were not.
“Defendant’s declarations to the public in 2017 and 2018 implied that the plaintiffs engaged in lewd and lascivious behavior, that the plaintiffs received improper benefits, and that the plaintiffs competed while ineligible and that the plaintiffs are not champions,” the lawsuit states.
The suit says the NCAA “chose not to exclude” the five players when it made press releases and disclosed allegations to the news media and general public.
The players claim the NCAA made “hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues” when it allowed the team to participate in regular and postseason play from 2011 to 2014, and that the organization breached its contract with the players when it associated them with the scandal and revoked their wins.
In addition to the 2012-13 NCAA championship, Hancock also seeks the reinstatement of his Most Outstanding Player award from that year’s NCCA tournament.
All of the players seek a declaration they are innocent and were eligible for all the seasons they competed at the university.
One of the former players’ attorneys, John Morgan of Morgan & Morgan, called the NCAA a “goliath” in a press conference Wednesday and said “we are used to fighting Goliath every single day.”
“One thing a bully understands is blood in his mouth,” Morgan said.
Hancock was the only player present at the press conference.
“The NCAA,” Hancock said, “has a reputation that I think a lot of people in this room know about. Like Mr. Morgan said, we’re going to push back.”
The former student-athletes seek compensatory damages for claims of false light, promissory estoppel, breach of contract, conversion and negligence.
The NCAA did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.