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.