Arizona’s men’s basketball coach Sean Miller faces allegations of multiple NCAA rules violations, including failing to monitor two assistant coaches and allowing them to accept cash bribes and arrange for fraudulent academic transcripts for players.
Facing a court order, the University of Arizona late on Friday evening released documents detailing the NCAA allegations, which the school has sought to keep out of public view since October.
The “Notice of Allegations” document, which the NCAA presented to Arizona that month, alleges nine rule violations, including a lack of head coach responsibility against men’s basketball coach Miller and a lack of institutional control against the university.
Five of the alleged violations are Level 1, considered the most serious breaches of conduct by the governing body for college sports.
The 22-page document says Miller, as head coach, is presumed responsible for five of the allegations and “did not demonstrate that he promoted an atmosphere for compliance and monitored his staff within the basketball program.”
The allegations single out two former assistant coaches, Emanuel “Book” Richardson and Mark Phelps. Phelps and Richardson are accused of arranging for a false or inaccurate transcript between March 2016 and September 2017 for two prospective athletes who needed to meet academic standards.
The NCAA alleges that beginning in March 2016, Richardson arranged for or paid $40,000 to obtain fraudulent academic credit or a false academic transcript for a men’s basketball prospective athlete. The transcript was needed to meet NCAA initial eligibility standards. The athlete enrolled and competed, including in postseason contests, while ineligible, the NCAA alleges. The university redacted information that would reveal the student’s identity.
Richardson also is accused of receiving $20,000 in cash bribes from a business management company in exchange for agreeing to steer athletes toward the company’s services when they turned pro.
The NCAA also alleges that Phelps in June 2017 loaned an athlete $500 to buy a plane ticket. The athlete paid him back the following month, but the loan was not permitted under NCAA rules. The NCAA alleges Phelps then directed the athlete to delete a text message about the loan and “provided false or misleading information” to the university about his knowledge of the violation.
The NCAA document says the “ultimate responsibility for the integrity of the men’s basketball program rested with Miller and his staff’s actions reflect on Miller as head coach.”
The nine allegations in the document also include claims against Augie Busch, the head men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach, saying he didn’t promote an atmosphere of compliance in the women’s swimming and diving program.
The NCAA also alleged that actions by Athletics Director Dave Heeke, and by an attorney acting at the direction of President Robert Robbins, “compromised the integrity of the investigation” and that the university “failed to cooperate.”
The university has refused to release the Notice of Allegations to the public since October, saying the denial was to “protect the integrity of the ongoing enforcement process.”
The Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state university system, did not have an immediate comment about the publicly released allegations. The university also did not have a comment. Efforts to reach Heeke and Robbins on their cellphones on Friday night were unsuccessful.
In October, the regents held a closed-door meeting to get legal advice and have discussions on Arizona’s men’s basketball and the NCAA investigation. But the board did not take any action because the meeting was only listed as an executive session. After the meeting, Regents Chairman Larry Penley said, in a statement, that the notice of allegations is another step in the enforcement process.
“Maintaining the integrity of the process, while frustratingly slow, has been and remains essential and we look forward to an expeditious resolution,” he said at the time.
The public release on Friday night comes after the media outlet ESPN sued for the release in Maricopa County Superior Court. A judge ordered the university earlier this week to release the allegations “promptly.”
Wider basketball corruption probe
Arizona had been under the NCAA’s microscope since September 2017, when Miller’s longtime assistant coach, Richardson, was among 10 people arrested as part of a widespread federal corruption investigation into college basketball.
The federal complaint accused the 44-year-old Richardson of accepting at least $20,000 in cash bribes in exchange for agreeing to pressure players to retain a specific financial manager and a sports agent when those players turned pro and needed representation. Miller has denied wrongdoing and isn’t named in the federal complaint.
The university fired Richardson, and he later pleaded guilty to accepting $20,000 in bribes from aspiring business manager Christian Dawkins. He was sentenced to a three-month prison sentence in 2019.
Richardson had been an assistant coach during the entire Miller era at Arizona, following him from Xavier University in Ohio, where the two worked together.
Miller sat out a game in 2018, after ESPN reported he was heard on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to future No. 1 NBA pick Deandre Ayton, who now plays for the Phoenix Suns.
Miller denied the ESPN report at the time, calling it “false and defamatory,” and Robbins announced a few days later that Miller would remain the Wildcats’ coach.
The NCAA Notice of Allegations sent to the university in October contains no mention of the alleged wiretap or $100,000 payment.
University officials have been tight-lipped about the allegations surrounding the men’s basketball program. The university hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation, but to date, no findings have been released. Legal bills released in 2018 as part of a public-records request from The Arizona Republic were heavily redacted.
Miller, the 52-year-old head coach, has repeatedly declined comment about the allegations.
Claims against administrators
The NCAA investigation also criticizes the university’s top leadership, including Robbins and Heeke.
The report says Arizona “failed to establish a culture of compliance in the men’s basketball program” and failed to “heighten its monitoring and/or take reasonable steps to prevent noncompliant conduct despite red flags” in the men’s basketball program.
Specifically, the report says Arizona “compromised the integrity of the investigation” and failed to cooperate when:
- The university refused to share the factual findings of an external investigation.
- Heeke and the head of compliance drafted talking points related to the investigations that “demonstrated from the outset a lack of commitment to cooperation and acceptance of responsibility.”
- On May 20, 2019, the school’s outside counsel and head of compliance conducted an unrecorded interview with Richardson without first notifying and involving the NCAA enforcement staff. The NCAA alleged the interview was done “at the direction of the president.”
The report also says the violations were “premeditated, deliberate or committed after substantial planning” and “persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation or related wrongful conduct.”
Arizona could face major NCAA penalties or sanctions if the allegations are determined to be true. At some schools, coaches have been suspended, teams have faced postseason bans and athletic scholarships have been reduced because of rules violations.
An NCAA rule that went into effect in 2013 says head coaches are presumed responsible for the actions of assistant coaches. The NCAA expects the head coach to promote an atmosphere of compliance with rules within the program. Penalties can include suspension for up to an entire season for Level 1 violations. Coaches are expected to monitor activities of employees, educate them about the rules and report compliance concerns that could constitute NCAA violations.
Miller’s contract runs through May 31, 2022, and includes a half-dozen provisions where he can be fired for cause, including for “material or repetitive” violations of NCAA policies. He can also be fired for demonstrated dishonesty or for substantial neglect of assigned duties.
Miller is paid $2.5 million in base pay per season, plus more for endorsement deals. In 2018, he agreed to forfeit $1 million if he commits a major NCAA violation or is criminally charged related to his employment, under an amended contract approved by the Regents.
Miller’s 2020-21 season came to an end on Monday in Eugene, Oregon, where the Wildcats lost 80-69 to the Oregon Ducks. Arizona finished the season 17-9 overall and 11-9 in the Pac-12.
The Wildcats would have been considered a bubble team for the NCAA tournament, but the school self-imposed a postseason ban — which included the conference tournament that begins on Wednesday in Las Vegas — because of the NCAA investigation.
Miller has taken the Wildcats to seven NCAA tournament appearances, and his overall record in Tucson is 302-109. His overall coaching record is 422-156, which includes five years at Xavier.
Miller has been a part of 17 NCAA Tournament teams as a player, assistant coach and head coach, according to the university.
After Monday’s game, Miller was asked if he expected to receive a contract extension from Arizona. He said he planned to talk with Robbins and Heeke about his future.
The allegations are being reviewed as part of the Independent Accountability Review Process, which uses experts with no school affiliation to review, hear and decide complex cases involving Division I sports.