When a rich guy donates millions of dollars to the UA athletic department, the school summons the media to the Lohse Room, third floor, McKale Center. It is the happiest place on campus. It is Disneyland.
The president, athletic director, coaches and assorted lieutenants sit behind microphones and pose for photographs.
When the school hires five attorneys in an attempt to maneuver its UA basketball team through a bribery, racketeering and corruption scandal, it becomes more like Dorothy and the Scarecrow knocking on the gate to the Emerald City.
“We want to see the Wizard!” they say.
“The Wizard?” says a guard. “But nobody can see the Great Oz! Nobody’s ever seen the Great Oz! Even I’ve never seen him!”
Arizona president Robert Robbins, athletic director Dave Heeke and coach Sean Miller remain unseen, sealed behind an Oz-like curtain.
In lieu of openness and transparency, they have been tweeting — and emailing — up a storm.
From UA president Robert Robbins: “Based on the facts we know at this time, we support coach Miller.”
Statement from Arizona head men's basketball coach Sean Miller: pic.twitter.com/GynYlCkGLM— Arizona Athletics (@AZATHLETICS) October 3, 2017
Miller and UA basketball players Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Allonzo Trier are scheduled to appear at an on-campus news conference Thursday, but they “will only be responding to basketball-related questions,” a team spokesman said.
Whatever happened to “stand up and be counted,” or “step up” — or even “man up?”
Why do the central figures in Arizona’s basketball drama continue to hide behind a computer keyboard?
Because the lawyers clean up all details, that’s why. Something out of an old Don Henley song puts the UA crisis in an accurate perspective:
Offer up your best defense.
But this is the end.
This is the end of the innocence.
This has gone so far beyond the innocence of college basketball that the UA’s real starting lineup for the 2017-18 season might as well be Paul Charlton, Gregg Clifton, Gene Marsh, John G. Long and Paul Kelly.
Those are the five attorneys hired by Robbins, five men who will be paid tens of thousands of dollars to, among other things, advise Arizona’s leaders to trash the meaning of transparency in a community that has given unrequited love to its basketball heroes for decades.
Haven’t those who pay much of the $21 million in annual basketball revenues, those who pay thousands in seat priority taxes every year, earned more from the UA than a tweet and an email?
Miller’s statement said he is “devastated.”
Heeke declared he is “angered and disheartened.”
Robbins wrote that “Miller has not been charged with — or accused of — any misconduct.”
On his Twitter page, Robbins describes himself as “President, chief enthusiast, advocate and storyteller for the University of Arizona.”
But he has told no story, spread no enthusiasm.
He has dodged a public Q&A session and refused to add clarity to the most seismic story to hit Southern Arizona since the Shootout at the OK Corral.
The UA has gone dark but still asks for the trust of its constituency.
“As your president,” Robbins’ statement says, “it is my responsibility … to do all that I can to ensure that every member of our community is proud to be a Wildcat.”
Here’s some rare perspective: In July, one of the attorneys Robbins hired, Gene Marsh of Birmingham, Alabama, former chair of the NCAA Committee of Infractions, told Sports Illustrated that sacred cows have become extinct in college basketball.
As an example, he used the nine-game suspension of Syracuse Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim.
“The penalty structure now is more fixed,” Marsh said. “There’s far less windage to it. The significant flexibility that used to exist no longer exists.
“You can pretty much say there’s going to be far more automatic suspensions of head coaches. You’d better get used to it. That’s the now, and that’s the future.”
Marsh’s comment could be windage itself. The NCAA’s investigation of Syracuse ranged from 2004 to 2012. It still took until ’15 to determine punishment.
Robbins’ brigade of investigative attorneys is impressive. Charlton, a UA law school grad, once climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Clifton played basketball at Harvard. Kelly used to be executive director of the NHL Players Association.
Sad, but most UA basketball followers are as familiar with Charlton and Clifton as they are with Robbins and Heeke.
The right thing for the UA to do is to step into the sunshine and take some questions, even the uncomfortable questions, squint into a TV camera and let us know there is a heart — and not just a Tin Man typing out attorney-driven damage control.