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Expert: Suspension likely to follow Sean Miller to Xavier if NCAA charge against him holds up

Sean Miller was hired Saturday at Xavier, where he coached before coming to the UA.

If the NCAA charge against him in Arizona’s still-pending infractions case holds up, Sean Miller will likely serve a 9-to-15-game suspension early in his second coaching stint at Xavier, one expert says.

Hired Saturday to return to Xavier, 11 months after Arizona fired him in the wake of years-long FBI and NCAA investigations into his UA program, Miller still faces an individual Level I (most serious) charge for a lack of head coach responsibility.

Any resulting penalties would follow Miller to his new school.

Investigative arms of both the NCAA (in October 2020) and Independent Accountability Resolution Process (in October 2021) have issued the same five Level I charges to Arizona. Three involved academic misconduct and improper recruiting inducements by two of Miller’s former assistants, Mark Phelps and Book Richardson; one was against Miller for a failure to monitor his assistants; and one was against Arizona for institutional lack of control.

Under NCAA Bylaw 11.1.1.1, which asserts a guilty-until-proven-innocent standard, Miller will only be cleared of his charge if he can prove he actively promoted and monitored compliance, and was deceived by his then-assistant coaches.

If the IARP’s hearing panel rules Miller is in violation, Miller will likely receive a Level I-standard individual penalty, according to Stu Brown, an Atlanta-based attorney who works with schools on NCAA infractions cases. Under the NCAA’s penalty matrix, a Level I-standard results in a suspension of 30% to 50% of a season — or 9 to 15 games.

“That would follow the coach, and I would suspect that it would be on the lower end of that range if he’s found to have committed the violation,” Brown said.

Xavier may have “calculated that, ‘OK, if we think that and some modest recruiting penalties are about as bad as it’s going to be, then good for us and good for Coach Miller. We can get a good coach and he can come to a good program and we can overcome that and have a long and happy relationship.’ That’s the thinking.”

Xavier athletic director Greg Christopher told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the school realizes “Sean may receive penalties once the case has been fully adjudicated later this year.” Christopher may have some unique insight to Miller’s situation. He is the former chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, and Brown said he assumed Christopher has analyzed the charge against Miller.

Brown said Christopher and his staff likely found information about the charge and Miller’s potential defense “satisfactory,” while also calculating that any possible penalty won’t be “significantly harmful to the anticipated success of the program under Coach Miller.”

In a Xavier statement released Saturday, Miller said he would address “what I’ve been through the last few years to get to this point and my plan going forward” at his introductory news conference, which is expected to be held later this week.

Christopher told the Enquirer that Xavier has “a basketball program of high integrity, one that is committed to both winning and compliance” and expressed confidence in Miller.

“While the NCAA investigation at the University of Arizona is troubling, we are convinced that Sean has learned and grown from his time at Arizona,” Christopher said. “We welcome Sean back to Xavier, not only because he is an elite college coach and proven winner, but because we are confident that he will be an even better coach having weathered this storm.”

Richardson was charged with taking $20,000 in bribes in exchange for efforts to sway UA players toward an agency for professional representation — an allegation that also led to his three-month 2019 stint in federal prison — and paying $40,000 to obtain fraudulent academic credit and/or transcripts for a Wildcat player. Phelps was accused of arranging for a “false or inaccurate academic record” for a recruiting target and for trying to cover up a $500 loan he gave a then-current player. The academic misconduct charges from both assistants constituted one of the Level I charges, while Richardson’s alleged bribe-taking and Phelps’ alleged cover-up were each separate Level I charges.

The Wildcats self-imposed a postseason ban in 2020-21, and face potential penalties ahead — even with Miller back at Xavier.

Brown said the NCAA enforcement staff “clearly positioned the (school’s collective) case as Level I-aggravated against the university,” and if upheld as such, Arizona will face a postseason ban between 1-5 years under the NCAA’s penalty matrix. The NCAA can accept the self-ban as part of its penalties, but it does not have to.

Contact sports reporter Bruce Pascoe at 573-4146 or bpascoe@tucson.com. On Twitter @brucepascoe


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