That dark cloud that has been hanging over the University of Arizona men’s basketball program the last three years is about to turn into a full-blown, lightning-and-thunder rain storm.
Yesterday, the NCAA issued a Notice of Allegations that could lead to devastating Level 1 penalties.
The rolling thunderclouds that precede a storm like this began to take shape over the Tucson campus in September of 2017 when Emanuel ‘Book’ Richardson was named as one of four college assistant coaches indicted following a multi-year FBI investigation of bribery in college sports.
The sprawling, nation-wide corruption probe had focused on payments that had allegedly been made to the families of recruits in exchange for a guarantee that the player would attend a specific college.
Richardson, a long-time assistant to head coach Sean Miller, an association that began when Miller was head coach at Xavier before taking the Arizona job in 2009, was arrested and charged with taking $20,000 in bribes that summer, using some of it to pay one or more high school recruits, and keeping the rest. He was immediately suspended by the UofA program and soon after fired.
The focus of attention then, understandably, turned to Miller, who has a reputation as a being a top recruiter, pulling in a top-10 recruiting class each of the previous seven years. It was an obvious question to ask whether his success in that area had anything to do with money under the table.
Within weeks, the university hired an outside law firm to begin an independent review of the allegations and also brought in outside counsel to assist the college with the Department of Justice criminal investigation underway.
And then they issued a statement of support for their head coach, “based on the facts that we know at this time.”
But within several months, in February of 2018, the school was stunned by an ESPN report that Miller was caught on an FBI wiretap discussing with a sports agent a $100,000 payment to steer the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Deandre Ayton, to his program. Ayton played a season with the Wildcats before declaring for the NBA draft.
The 51-year-old coach, who is entering his 12th season directing the Wildcat program, denied the allegations and, despite being mentioned in a couple of trial proceedings since then, his school has continued to stand by him while awaiting the next step in the process.
That time is finally here. The issuance of the notice was made public yesterday, although the university has declined to release information about the possible charges, which could result in a variety of penalties, including a ban on postseason play. By law, the school is required to release that information.
The NCAA has also not released the document, citing confidentiality rules. So media speculation is running rampant.
Now, there is more wait time ahead. The university will have 90 days to respond to the notice, and then the NCAA has another 60 days to address the school’s response.
In the meantime, Miller and his team will continue preparing for the upcoming season.
That dark cloud will still be hanging there. Only now it’s become much more ominous.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)