Looks like Dave Heeke is going to run a postseason ban up the flagpole and see who salutes.
That’s an old saying for trying out an idea to see if it will be accepted. In this case, the just-announced self-imposed ban on his men’s basketball team is a proactive measure by the school, designed to hopefully blunt more severe treatment by the NCAA.
Heeke, the University of Arizona athletic director, has been on the tip of the spear during ongoing investigations by the FBI and NCAA that began in 2017.
Those investigations culminated in an official Notice of Allegations from the NCAA in October that hit the men’s basketball program with nine violations, including five Level I allegations.
On Tuesday, the school announced the basketball program has self-imposed a one-year postseason ban that means the Wildcats will not be participating in the Pac-12 Tournament at season’s end, nor the NCAA Tournament, should they qualify.
“The decision to self-impose a postseason ban was extremely difficult, as we recognize the impact that it has on our current student-athletes,” Heeke explained in a statement added to the school’s announcement. He pledged to continue cooperating with the enforcement process.
Arizona’s problems began 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.
Richardson, a long-time assistant to head coach Sean Miller, was arrested and charged with taking $20,000 in bribes that summer, using some of it to pay high school recruits, and keeping the rest. He was immediately suspended by the UofA program and fired soon after.
Within several months, Miller was also implicated in the probe. ESPN reported that Miller was caught on an FBI wiretap discussing with a sports agent a $100,000 payment to steer the No. 1 prospect, Deandre Ayton, to his program. Ayton played a season for the Wildcats before declaring for the NBA draft.
Miller, who is entering his 12th season directing the program, denied the allegations and the school has stood behind him while awaiting the results of the investigations.
The 51-year-old coaching veteran is still facing possible penalties under the NCAA’s rules of responsibility for head coaches.
Miller added his statement to the announcement: “I understand and fully support the University’s decision to self-impose a one-year postseason ban on our Men’s Basketball program. Our team will remain united and aggressively compete to win a Pac-12 championship.”
Arizona, which was picked in the preseason poll to finish fifth in the conference, is 7-1 overall and 1-1 in Pac-12 play.
Tonight, when the Cats travel to Seattle for a game against conference foe Washington, Miller will get his first look at how this shock to the program will affect his players’ performance on the court.
Without the opportunity for the players to earn the usual postseason rewards, Miller’s coaching job just got a whole lot more difficult.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)