March Madness has come early this year for college basketball. And, unfortunately, the madness that began yesterday with federal indictments of four assistant coaches at prominent universities has nothing to do with games, but rather real life. The seedy side of life.
The corruption probe that has been going on behind the scenes since 2015 is beginning to peel back the onion to show the dark side of college sports. At this point, 10 individuals are facing federal bribery, fraud, and corruption charges after payments have allegedly been made to the families of recruits in exchange for a guarantee that the player would attend a specific college.
For Arizona basketball fans, the concern is that one of their own has been caught up in the FBI nets. Emanuel ‘Book’ Richardson, long-time assistant coach at University of Arizona, is one of four college assistant coaches, as well as a top executive of the Adidas show company, named in the indictments, unveiled yesterday by the FBI and the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Richardson is a Bronx native.
The other coaches include Chuck Person at Auburn, Lamont Evans at Oklahoma State, and Tony Bland at USC.
According to federal prosecutors, at least three top high school recruits were offered payments of as much as $150,000 to attend two universities sponsored by Adidas. The money was said to have come from Adidas.
The UofA Athletic Department was quick to issue a statement saying the Pac-12 school would cooperate fully with the investigation. Richardson said the university “has nothing to do with it”, but the fact that he has been such an integral part of the Wildcats’ basketball program and, more specifically, its recruiting efforts, it’s hard to understand how any illicit actions could have gone unnoticed.
In fact, Richardson has a long history with head coach Sean Miller. He was on Miller’s staff at Xavier for two seasons before following his head coach to Tucson to take over the Arizona job in 2009. Even before that, their careers had something in common. Both had been assistants at Pittsburgh, Miller’s alma mater, although at different times.
With that close working relationship, there have to be concerns about what Miller, who has a solid reputation for running a clean program, knew regarding Richardson’s recruiting ‘practices’.
Richardson was arrested and charged with taking $20,000 in bribes last summer, using some of it to pay one or more high school recruits and keeping the rest. He was released yesterday on $50,000 bond. The school said in a media release that he has been suspended and relieved of his duties with the basketball program.
The concerns of Arizona fans reached a fever pitch this morning when Rick Pitino, one of the winningest coaches in college basketball, was reported to have been fired from the Louisville program. That’s has quickly the fire spread to the top of the organization – and could happen anywhere.
Pitino, who hasn’t been singled out in the probe, doesn’t have an assistant specifically named in the first batch of indictments, but those released yesterday referred to a school that appears to be Louisville, although the program wasn’t identified, and a top player that appears to be Louisville’s most recent high school recruit.
Louisville has since confirmed it is part of the investigation and has reported that Pitino has been placed on upaid administrative leave and Athletic Director Tom Jurich, who hired Pitino, is on paid leave. The school explained that putting the individuals on administrative leave, rather than dismissing them, is standard procedure since it is an ongoing investigation and no criminal charges have yet been filed.
That just goes to show the impact this probe could have, on even the biggest names in the game. And it just stands to reason that those with the most success at recruiting would become targets. Over the past seven years, Arizona has landed a top-10 recruiting class each year, including five that were ranked among the top five in the nation.
This is no doubt just the tip of the iceberg, which means the investigation will continue throughout the season.
So, by the time March Madness actually rolls around, there is no telling what kind of devastation will cover the college basketball landscape…which programs will be hit with NCAA sanctions, and which coaches will still have jobs.
In the meantime, Arizona Wildcat fans can only hold their breath and hope the damage to their storied program ends with Richardson.