Arizona has been charged with nine rules violations by the NCAA, including five Level One allegations, sources confirmed to Sports Illustrated Sunday. This could lead to massive sanctions against the school’s athletic department, especially the men’s basketball program.
Among the Level One allegations, according to sources: Sean Miller for violating head coach control responsibility; and a lack of institutional control charge against the athletic department as a whole. Penalties could include multi-year postseason bans and a full-season suspension for Miller.
The news was first reported Sunday by The Athletic, citing a letter from Arizona outside counsel Paul Kelly to the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The Athletic story also notes a head coach control charge against Arizona swimming coach Augie Busch. The Notice of Allegations was received by the school last Thursday, sources said, and publicly acknowledged Friday. Arizona did not release the contents of the NOA, but sources confirmed the basics of it to SI.
The letter from Kelly was a request to move the Arizona infractions case to the newly created Independent Accountability Review Process. The IARP is the so-called “off-ramp” for infractions cases to be vetted outside of the NCAA’s traditional peer-review process, involving people associated with member schools.
The Arizona case is believed to be the first time a university has formally requested to be routed through the IARP, which is in its infancy as a part of the NCAA crime-and-punishment structure. Cases currently being handled by the IARP include three others that resulted from the federal investigation of college basketball: North Carolina State, Kansas and LSU. The IARP also is working on a fourth case unrelated to that bribery scandal, involving Memphis.
The nine allegations against Arizona is the most to be publicly known for any of the 10 schools that have been charged with NCAA violations in the wake of the scandal. The five Level One allegations is the same number Kansas was charged with earlier this year. In that case, Bill Self also was charged with a head coach control violation.
According to the NCAA penalty matrix, a Level One violation with aggravating circumstances can lead to a postseason ban of two to four years. A standard Level One violation can produce a postseason ban of one to two years. According to The Athletic’s reporting, NCAA Enforcement is seeking the application of aggravated circumstances.
A head coach found to have committed a Level One violation could be suspended for 50-100% of a season with aggravated circumstances, according to the penalty matrix. A standard violation would result in a suspension of 30-50% of a season.
Of course, Arizona could also choose to part ways with Miller. The school’s board of regents is scheduled to meet Monday in executive session to discuss the Notice of Infractions.
Federal wiretaps, court testimony and Arizona’s own personnel actions have long indicated that the school could be facing a host of problems. The program 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’s 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.”
Academic fraud and payments to a player’s family are potential Level One 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's attorney has proclaimed his client's innocence.
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 “10 … 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.”
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.”
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.