Arizona Expected to Receive NCAA's Formal Allegations Stemming From Basketball Investigation

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The University of Arizona is expected to receive a formal Notice of Allegations from the NCAA Thursday, multiple sources told Sports Illustrated. The notice of charges is a key step in the investigation of the school’s men’s basketball program, and the contents of the NOA could go a long way toward deciding the fate of embattled coach Sean Miller.

It is unknown when, or if, the school will release the NOA.

UPDATE: On Friday, October 23, 2020, the University of Arizona said it had received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA but was not releasing it "in order to protect the integrity of the ongoing enforcement process."

Of the 12 schools that have been investigated by the NCAA in the wake of the federal probe of corruption in college basketball, Arizona’s case has been considered one of the most significant. That’s due to the profile of the program and the potential for a wide swath of major allegations, some of which could be aimed at the head coach. Federal wiretaps, court testimony and Arizona’s own personnel actions indicate that the school could be facing a host of problems.

FORDE: Where is the Reckoning for Widespread College Basketball Corruption?

Arizona has been under the microscope since Sept. 26, 2017, when the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced its investigation. Among the four college assistant coaches arrested and charged was then-Wildcats staffer Emanuel “Book” Richardson, who pleaded guilty to accepting $20,000 in bribes in exchange for steering Arizona players to aspiring agent Christian Dawkins and financial manager Munish Sood. Richardson spent three months in federal prison.

Federal wiretap transcripts show that Richardson said he paid $40,000 to “a high school coach” to help ensure the academic eligibility of former Wildcats guard Rawle Alkins, plus “two grand” a month to Alkins’ cousin after he moved to Tucson from New York City. Richardson did not say where he got the money. He cited the payment as an example of the difficulty handling the demands of recruits, their families and those around them.

“So, again, is it something different each year?” Richardson said. “It is. Like I said, $40,000 to do that was totally extreme. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would not do it. I'd try to barter something. I'd give blood. I'd give semen, something.”

Arizona Wildcats assistant coach Book Richardson signals during the second half against the New Mexico Lobos at McKale Center. Arizona won 77-46.

Former Arizona assistant coach Book Richardson signals during a December 2016 game against New Mexico.

Academic fraud and payments to a player’s family are potential Level I infractions, the most serious on the NCAA’s scale of violations. They could result in a postseason ban of one or more seasons, plus a host of other potential penalties.

Arizona also placed a second assistant coach, Mark Phelps, on administrative leave in 2019, and his contract was subsequently allowed to expire without renewal. ESPN reported at the time that Phelps was accused of a violation related to former recruit Shareef O’Neal’s academic transcript. Phelps' attorney has proclaimed his client's innocence. During one of the federal trials, Brian Bowen Sr., the father of former Louisville signee Brian Bowen II, testified that Dawkins told him a third former Arizona assistant, Joe Pasternack, offered $50,000 for Bowen to sign with the Wildcats.

There was additional mention in the originating FBI indictment, at trial and on wiretaps of other potential Arizona violations involving additional prospects who did not attend the school.

Even if Miller is not directly tied to any violations and says he had no knowledge of them, he could be subject to a Level I head coach responsibility penalty for rule breaking by his staff.

But some wiretaps of conversations between Richardson and Dawkins seem to implicate Miller in pay-for-play situations. “Sean’s taking care of Rawle and them,” Dawkins said in one conversation. In another, Richardson said Miller was paying “ten … per month” for star recruit Deandre Ayton, who went on to become the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. In a third surveillance recording, Dawkins talks about Ayton and says Miller told him, "I'm taking care of everything myself. I want to bring you in. I'll turn everything over to you.”

Government witness Marty Blazer was asked on the witness stand what Dawkins meant by Miller taking care of everything. “I understood that to mean [Miller] had been taking care of payments to Deandre Ayton,” Blazer testified. “Sean Miller was taking care of everything for Deandre Ayton and his family.”

Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller watches his team play against the Washington State Cougars in the first half at McKale Center.

Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller watches his team play during a March 2020 game against Washington State.

In early 2018, when Miller’s name first was being directly tied to potential violations, he was briefly suspended by Arizona. After being reinstated, Miller said, “I have never knowingly violated NCAA rules while serving as head coach of this great program. I have never paid a recruit, prospect or their family to come to Arizona, and I never will.”

On the HBO documentary, “The Scheme,” which profiled Dawkins as the central figure in the corruption scandal, Dawkins painted a different picture of the Arizona coach. When asked about the above quote from Miller, Dawkins responded, “Yeah, that wasn’t true.”

“The thing about Arizona is that Sean Miller has to know everything that’s going on,” Dawkins added in the film. "If anyone is going to say that Book was a cheater and Book was a liar and Book paid players? There’s no way you can separate Sean from it.”

What sticks to Miller from an NCAA standpoint, and what doesn’t, should be known by Arizona shortly.

The last two schools still awaiting their Notices of Allegations that pertain to the SDNY probe are Alabama and LSU. Other schools that have been charged: North Carolina State, Kansas, Oklahoma State, USC, TCU, Louisville and South Carolina. Creighton and Auburn have not publicly acknowledged receiving their NOAs.

The slow pace of NCAA justice has frustrated many schools and coaches. The only program that has been sanctioned to date is Oklahoma State, which received a one-year postseason ban applicable for the 2020-21 season. The school is appealing the ruling.