Sean Miller went a third day without addressing the arrest of his longest tenured assistant on federal bribery and fraud charges.
Questions kept building anyway.
What did the Arizona head coach know, if anything, about the $20,000 in bribes assistant coach Book Richardson was accused of taking? Was Miller aware that, according to the federal complaint, another UA coach met with the sports agent also charged in the investigation? That former associate head coach Joe Pasternack may have talked with a sports agent twice on the telephone?
And also, from the complaint, these questions:
- Had a current UA player already taken payments from a sports agent, as that agent alleged?
- Was it true that a sports agent involved with the bribery scheme was “friends” with the UA coaching staff, and that he could attend practices “like I’m on the team,” as the complaint quoted him as saying?
- And did the UA really offer a five-star recruit $150,000, as an Adidas rep alleged in a separate federal complaint involving the shoe company’s ties to college basketball?
UA president Robert Robbins has opened an independent investigation into Richardson, but the university has not addressed the other issues raised involving the program.
Miller hasn’t said anything, either, and the UA’s scheduled preseason media day Wednesday was postponed. Miller spent Thursday with his team in McKale Center.
Under a contract that is scheduled to pay him $2.6 million plus performance and academic bonuses in 2017-18, Miller can be terminated for, among other reasons, “repetitive violations” of NCAA or Pac-12 rules, “demonstrated dishonesty” and “conviction of a criminal act that constitutes a felony, a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude or that otherwise reflects adversely on coach’s fitness to serve as head coach.”
But Miller was not linked to any potential NCAA rules violations in the federal complaints. In fact, the coach wasn’t mentioned at all except for when a sports agent said Miller wanted recruit Jahvon Quinerly “bad as (expletive),” suggesting the agents could gain considerable leverage over the Arizona program if they helped deliver Quinerly.
Miller hasn’t been implicated in any public NCAA rules violations cases since arriving at Arizona in 2009, and picked up a strong endorsement Thursday from ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas.
“I know Sean Miller to be a man of great honesty and integrity,” Bilas tweeted, in response to a fan’s tweet that it was “laughable” that Miller knew nothing. “I don’t believe for a second he knew of any improper behavior.”
Even if he’s found responsible for any possible violations, Miller might be treated as something of a first-time offender in the NCAA’s eyes.
“That helps, but there’s some stuff that looks pretty shady involving the program,” said Jerry Meyer, a recruiting analyst for 24/7 Sports. “I think all these schools are now under a microscope and we have no idea how much intel and evidence the FBI has.”
Indeed, U.S. attorney Joon Kim said Tuesday that the investigation remains open now that the initial covert operation is completed. The FBI encouraged calls to its tipline, and suggested that coaches who committed similar acts would be better off calling the FBI instead of later being called by the FBI.
All this hit just days before UA was scheduled to open full-length preseason practices with a team that has already become the consensus No. 1-rated team among major preseason annuals.
The only thing that is certain now is that Richardson won’t be on the coaching staff, and that wing Rawle Alkins is out for 8-12 weeks because of a broken foot.
If a player took payments from a sports agent already, as a sports agent alleged, that player could be deemed ineligible, and any past games he played in after taking them might be vacated.
The complaint also said Richardson aimed to put pressure on another current UA player to sign with the agent, though there was no mention of any payments made.
All this led CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander to write Thursday of Arizona:
“How many players on that roster are subject to investigation? How many players could be held out or ruled ineligible? In a flash, Sean Miller’s program has gone from preseason title favorite to an alleged cheating machine.”
The NCAA won’t say if it plans to launch its own investigation or issue sanctions based on the FBI’s allegations.
When asked by the Star, the NCAA only referred to a statement from NCAA president Mark Emmert, who said the charges were “deeply disturbing” and pledged to “support the ongoing federal investigation.”
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott also said he was “deeply troubled” by the charges against not only Richardson but USC assistant coach Tony Bland.
“I have been in contact with the leadership of both universities and it is clear they also take this matter very seriously,” Scott said in the statement Tuesday. “We are still learning the facts of this matter, but these allegations, if true, are profoundly upsetting to me. They strike at the heart of the integrity of our programs, and of the game that so many people love and play the right way.”