The Star's Bruce Pascoe on UA's response to the federal trial, the national reaction and a Pac-12 schedule tweak.
UA responds to federal trial, Book Richardson's allegation
SCOTTSDALE — Arizona says it is taking “very seriously” what was presented in federal court Wednesday, when former assistant basketball coach Book Richardson was heard on a wiretapped phone call played for jurors saying UA coach Sean Miller had agreed to pay former Wildcat star Deandre Ayton.
“The University of Arizona takes the information presented in court today very seriously and remains committed to the highest standards of integrity and ethical conduct which includes competing within the rules of the NCAA and the Pac-12 Conference," UA said in a statement in response to the Star's request for comment. "We will continue to cooperate fully with the NCAA and with other ongoing investigations into this matter in the best interest of the university and the men’s basketball program.”
Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke could not be reached during Pac-12 meetings at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale, where athletic directors later attended an offsite Tournament of Roses dinner. UA president Robert C. Robbins tweeted Wednesday night that he was at Old Main celebrating the sponsors, volunteers and community partners involved with the Tucson Festival of Books.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, meanwhile, said he couldn’t comment yet on Richardson's allegation because it surfaced during the conference’s meetings, and said he didn't know exactly what UA's own investigation has revealed.
Scott said he has not discussed the issue with Heeke this week, and has not been in touch with UA’s legal team, which has had a representative sitting in on every day of the trial. But he said the Pac-12 has been in regular contact with Arizona officials and is “very concerned” about the issues that have been brought up.
National media reaction to Wednesday’s proceedings included a CBS podcast entitled “The federal trial has been worse for Arizona than maybe everyone was expecting,” and a Yahoo Sports story with a headline reading “How much longer can Arizona employ Sean Miller?”
During a roundtable interview Wednesday with national and local reporters, Scott was asked if retaining coaches alleged to have broken rules during the proceedings would send a message that nothing will change about the underbelly of college basketball.
“There are a lot of people in college sports, including myself, that hope that there are some definitive findings or a conclusion one way or another as a result of this trial,” Scott said. “I think, in a strange way, it's potentially a very positive development for college basketball. The FBI has had tools and the ability to look into things that would be difficult for the NCAA, given their subpoena power, wiretaps, etc.
“The conversations I’ve had with our basketball coaches and our administration is that we’re really hopeful that there are some conclusions that come out of it one way or another and not just open-ended questions that don’t have concrete conclusions.”
Still, Scott acknowledged that the frequent references to cash payments in allegations that have surfaced during the trial indicate that proving violations is difficult.
“If it’s possible, this process may have created some sympathy for the challenges that NCAA enforcement has,” Scott said.
Stiffer schedules possible
School leaders are expected Thursday to discuss scheduling parameters for men’s basketball, including possibly moving to a 20-game league schedule and a nonconference scheduling standard that could involve opponents' expected strength.
“No one is just kind of sitting there saying we don’t have to tweak or change anything and just hope things improve,” Scott said.
The idea to move to 20 conference games first surfaced in early 2018, but the conference decided to keep the traditional 18-game schedule for 2019-20.
The Pac-12's coaches met during this year's Final Four.