If you find yourself doing 95 miles per hour on the freeway and a police officer stops you, defending yourself by saying, “Everyone else does it” will likely get you a less-than-amused cop who retorts, “But you got caught.”
The University of Arizona, the Ferrari in the fast lane of the pay-for-play scandal that has rocked the NCAA in recent years, now finds itself in the line of fire of the cops’ radar gun, as a new report in Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star says the NCAA has launched a full investigation of the school.
The university had not previously confirmed to media that it was under investigation, but as far back as February, Yahoo! Sports quoted sources as saying that indeed Arizona was in the crosshairs.
When the Daily Star followed up on the allegations, the university continued to deny and stonewall, but on Friday it took a curious change in tone.
When explaining to the newspaper why they would not release communication records with the NCAA, the school said outright, “investigations into the University of Arizona men’s basketball program are ongoing at this time.”
When the reporter followed up and asked if those investigations included the NCAA, the spokesperson said “an NCAA investigation is underway.”
Arizona first came up in connection with this scandal when the school allegedly paid top recruit Deandre Ayton $10,000 a month to do his “one-and-done” year at the school. Ayton eventually went first overall in the 2018 NBA draft to the Phoenix Suns, where an unremarkable season left him out of the Rookie of the Year conversation and Suns fans furious they didn’t get Luka Doncic.
Arizona assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson pleaded guilty in federal court to bribery charges, and under new NCAA rules put in place in 2018, that plea now becomes part of evidence that can be connected to the school’s additional misdeeds.
In addition, Arizona head coach Sean Miller, even if he did nothing wrong, can still be sanctioned under NCAA bylaw 188.8.131.52, which holds head coaches accountable for the deeds of their subordinates.
Put another way, the head coach is assumed to have knowledge and authority over the actions of his subordinates, the unethical behavior of which is, de jure, now affirmative proof of the more vaguely defined “lack of institutional control.”
Should the NCAA investigation prove wrongdoing under not just the federal laws that Book Richardson admitted to breaking but the NCAA’s own recruiting rules, Arizona could be forced to vacate wins.
In addition to Richardson’s claim that Miller “bought” Ayton, his case also revealed that he paid the cousin of former Wildcats guard Rawle Atkins $2,000 a month.
There are more storm clouds on the horizon for Arizona as well.
The trial of “client recruiter” — though the term “illegal agent” or “fixer” could also apply — Christian Dawkins is expected to conclude Monday, and jury deliberations will then commence to determine Dawkins’ guilt.
If Dawkins is convicted, the noose further tightens around the neck of Miller, who to this point has always denied paying players.
All of that exists independently of these NCAA investigations the university has only now deigned to confirm are in progress.
The University of Arizona may be doing what everyone else in college basketball does; the pay-for-play legal scandal on the federal level certainly did not single out one school or even a handful of schools, casting a wide net over what seemed like the entire sport.
But the Wildcats are the ones who got caught, and they’re the ones who may be made an example of.
Unlike going 95 on the freeway, which just gets you a ticket with a hefty fine and maybe time spent taking rideshare services or the bus, the Arizona men’s basketball program may be facing the NCAA’s equivalent of the electric chair in lost scholarships and postseason appearances.
Meanwhile, Lute Olson’s legacy as Arizona coach — which included five Final Four appearances, countless NBA draft picks among his players including Jason Terry, Richard Jefferson and Andre Iguodala, and even a pair of prominent coaches in Steve Kerr and Luke Walton having learned the game from Olson — seems a million miles away.
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