A collection of the Star columnist's stories, videos, tweets.
Greg Hansen: Corruption, bribery, fraud and conspiracy could be Arizona Wildcats' new Final Four
The 58-page federal complaint filed in New York by assistant United States Attorneys Noah Solowiejczyk, Edward Diskant, Robert Boone and Russell Capone begins this way:
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
It is the same Book Richardson who sits down the bench from Sean Miller and helps to recruit Arizona’s marvelous basketball players from New York and Philadelphia and Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The United States of America says that while recruiting these marvelous basketball players, Book Richardson committed conspiracy, bribery, fraud and other things that can get a man locked away in jail for season after season.
These aren’t the words of the slow-moving and often bootless NCAA, but rather the wallop of the mighty Federal Bureau of Investigation.
When the FBI went public Tuesday with its accusations against Richardson and coaches at USC, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Louisville, it had all the subtlety of a stealth bomber dropping an incendiary on Arizona’s basketball program.
It’s as if McKale Center itself burned to the ground.
If it’s not yet the worst day in UA basketball history — in Tucson sports history — it will possibly turn out that way. The subsequent revelations and investigations have yet to begin. It is apt to become our own unhappy Watergate: What did Sean Miller know and when did he know it?
If he doesn’t have the proper explanations, Arizona’s basketball program will go from the Big Dance to the Big House.
An immeasurable sense of dread engulfs Tucson. Will the NCAA declare Arizona ineligible for the 2017-18 postseason, one in which many consider the Wildcats the nation’s No. 1 team? And not just this season, but what about next year and the year after?
Can this Book Richardson guy bring down the total Arizona basketball enterprise, an enormous source of community pride that Lute Olson built from scratch 34 years ago?
Corruption. Bribes. Fraud. Conspiracy. Those four words might become the only Final Four known to the Wildcats this season.
One immediate question is why Book Richardson would participate in a federal crime in which Party A paid Party B to benefit Party C to illegally fund Party D? What would be the motive of an assistant basketball coach of an elite basketball squad whose 2016-17 salary was $235,000?
Was Richardson miffed that Miller promoted former assistant coach Joe Pasternack to associate head coach and paid him $302,000, or that another assistant, Mark Phelps, hired six years after Richardson, was paid $257,000?
Is it something as simple as I’ll-show-you or I’ll-get-mine?
Or is this a systemic issue in college basketball — an underground economy, as ESPN analyst Jay Bilas suggested Tuesday — that has been operating unchecked for 30 or 40 years?
One paragraph of the 58-page complaint signed by John Vourderis, special agent of the FBI, says that the flesh-peddlers involved in this scheme “agreed to deprive Richardson’s employer of his honest services by soliciting and receiving bribes.”
Everybody was using everybody to get the latest five-star recruit into an Arizona uniform. Now you wonder how many of those five-star recruits in Arizona uniforms will stick it out and play through whatever penalty the NCAA imposes.
Or will they flee to another program untouched by the FBI investigation? In situations when the NCAA places a school on probation, the so-called student-athletes are usually allowed free agency.
There’s another possibility: Perhaps the NCAA will view Arizona as a victim. If Miller is clean, and if he can convince the FBI and NCAA that he knew nothing of Richardson’s alleged law-breaking, it’s possible Arizona won’t serve any time in the NCAA gulag.
But the collateral damage from an investigation isn’t going to be pleasant. Recruiting in college basketball has forever danced on the dark side, whether it involves shoe companies, agents or palms-out parents and AAU travel teams, all of which make a ton of money off the five-star prospects.
None of that is going to go away.
Tucson’s three most reputable and widely known commodities are sunshine, burritos and basketball. But today, the UA’s basketball program, the university as a whole and Tucson are scarred and stained.
Sooner or later, today or next week, Miller needs to sit behind a microphone and say it ain’t so.
The sun won’t shine until he does.
Nothing worse than 1989 Sweet 16 loss to UNLV, Sean Elliott's last game (No. 1 seed) https://t.co/Qu7McDCibL— Greg Hansen (@ghansen711) September 28, 2017
Greg Hansen: What happens next? For Arizona Wildcats, it's an open-ended question
After Arizona fired basketball coach Ben Lindsey in the spring of 1983, he told the school’s administration of five incidents in which players were paid or illegally reimbursed for plane travel.
Assistant coach Ricky Byrdsong acknowledged at least one of those payments. He said Lindsey gave him $200 for junior forward Morgan Taylor in a “white envelope.”
The UA sanctioned Byrdsong by reducing his salary from $25,002 to $12,501.
That was a high crime in college basketball, 1983, and it would almost seem comical if not for the fear that Arizona’s basketball program could be nuked for a sum less than Byrdsong’s 1983 salary.
The attorneys and damage control specialists at the UA are now at work on a strategy explaining how Arizona assistant basketball coach Book Richardson was reportedly caught in a pay-for-play scandal in which almost no one in college basketball ever gets caught.
What’s next? There are many possibilities:
- UA head coach Sean Miller denies any involvement and university president Bobby Robbins stands with him.
- More incriminating accusations are leveled by the FBI.
- One or more current UA players are ruled ineligible as a result of Richardson allegedly paying them; Class of 2018 recruits scatter to other schools.
- Richardson sings, telling FBI agents that Miller — or someone else at Arizona — knew of illegal payments, at which time Miller would likely be fired.
- The NCAA begins an investigation that could cripple Arizona’s basketball program into the 2020s.
Of immediate concern to those who have paid thousands of dollars in advance for McKale Center season tickets is whether the Wildcats will be eligible for the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Who knows? The book on Pac-12 basketball teams punished by exclusion from March Madness has but three chapters.
I. In 1981, UCLA was found to have helped purchase automobiles for Bruins stars Rod Foster, Darren Daye and Michael Holton. Coach Larry Brown was long gone before the NCAA investigation was complete. The Bruins were not allowed to participate in the 1982 NCAA Tournament even though they finished the season ranked No. 19 in the AP poll and had been ranked as high as No. 2.
II. In 1996, Cal coach Todd Bozeman was caught after giving guard Jelani Gardner $30,000. Bozeman was fired, but the NCAA was not swift in its punishment. New coach Ben Braun led the Bears to the 1997 NCAA Tournament. A year later, 1998, Cal was banished from postseason play.
III. In 2008, USC guard O.J. Mayo was ruled to have accepted illegal payments while a Trojan. After a long investigation, USC was made ineligible for the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Given the pace of the historically understaffed NCAA enforcement division, it’s more likely that Arizona wouldn’t begin a post-season ban until the spring of 2019.
For some long-suffering UA fans, this is familiar turf.
On May 20, 1983, the NCAA placed Arizona’s football program on a two-year probation for malfeasance committed in the 1970s. The Wildcats were not permitted to play in bowl games for two years, nor participate in any televised games.
Believe it or not, Arizona opened the 1983 season favored to win the Pac-10 and ranked No. 3 nationally — but painfully aware it could not play in the Rose Bowl.
Arizona’s football transgressions of the 1970s make Richardson’s alleged fraud and bribery crimes come off as kid’s stuff. The difference is that coach Tony Mason’s football program did not violate Section 666 of the United States legal code, which involves “theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funding.”
All Arizona coaches are agents of an institution that accepts federal funds, hence the FBI’s rare involvement in college sports.
Richardson probably didn’t know what hit him when the FBI knocked on his door.
You can almost picture him in astonishment, saying “I did what? Section 6-what? The FBI? Really?”
Mason’s team was punished for operating a $35,000 slush fund, falsifying dozens of travel expenses, helping players get paid for phony jobs, paying for players’ car repairs and for long-distance telephone expenses. Six UA assistant coaches were accused of a scheme in which they would collect payment for fake airline trips.
One UA player, running back Larry Heater, was fined $9,000 in court after pleading guilty to charges of defrauding the Tucson Parks and Recreation department, receiving pay for a job at which he did not work.
Mason, 53, was forced to resign just as Arizona began its 1980 spring football camp. He never coached again.
At issue now is whether Miller has coached his last game at Arizona.
Statements by Arizona AD and president don't mention Sean Miller at all. No 'we stand behind him' no 'we're working with him.' Total silence— Greg Hansen (@ghansen711) September 28, 2017