Arizona regents ‘aggressively pursuing the facts’ in Sean Miller recruiting scandal

The chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents said Thursday that the board is aggressively pursuing the facts in the rapidly unfolding college basketball bribery scandal that recently saw new allegations of Arizona Wildcats recruits being offered money.

“You have our pledge that we will take action when action is warranted, and we’re aggressively pursuing the facts as we look at all of this,” Regents Chairman Ron Shoopman told news media gathered at Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus. 

He made the comments after emerging from a 90-minute, closed-door meeting where the board discussed Arizona’s basketball program, one of several programs named in a  2017 FBI probe into corruption in college basketball. 

Shoopman said the regents received an update from University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins about the work his team is doing “to aggressively pursue the facts in this case and to ensure the athletics department operates at the highest level of integrity.”

“Anything less is unacceptable,” said Shoopman, who lives in Tucson. “We don’t want just the letter of the law to be observed. We want the spirit of the law to be part of what we do.”

The regents, who oversee the three state universities, scheduled the special meeting days after a federal college-hoops trial concluded in New York. Three men were found guilty of fraud last week for channeling secret payments to the families of top-tier basketball recruits to influence their choices of schools, clothing companies and agents.

The trial is the first of three related to the FBI probe.

New information about Arizona surfaced during and immediately after the trial, including: 

Miller declined to comment Tuesday on the allegations during a postgame news conference following Arizona’s exhibition victory over Western New Mexico.

He said he was aware of the regents meeting on Thursday and added he has been in regular contact with the athletic director and the university president.

The search for facts is expected to be a long process, the regents said.

Once all three federal trials are finished, which is not scheduled to happen until late spring, the NCAA is expected to conduct an investigation into potential rules violations.

Arizona also hired a law firm in September 2017 to conduct an independent review of the federal allegations. Robbins said at the time that the review would be completed as “efficiently and as comprehensively as possible” and that the results would be shared.

University officials have declined to say how far along the review is or when it is expected to be finished.

Sean Miller’s job not in jeopardy after recent revelations

Shoopman, the regents chairman, said determining the truth is important “because people’s careers are at risk here.

“But the chips will fall where they may. And that’s where we default to integrity. We’re going to do the right thing no matter what that is.”

Miller, the head coach, has not been accused of any wrongdoing by prosecutors.

But his former assistant, Emanuel “Book” Richardson was indicted in 2017 for bribery and fraud as part of the widespread FBI investigation into NCAA basketball. He is scheduled to go to trial April 22 along with former assistant coaches Tony Bland of USC and Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State.

All are accused of funneling apparel company money to recruits and their families.

Richardson is accused of accepting $20,000 in bribes, purportedly to steer players to a particular management company when those players turned pro. Richardson has maintained through his attorney that he is not guilty. The university suspended Richardson after his September 2017 arrest and fired him in January.

Miller himself was the subject of a February ESPN article, alleging FBI wiretaps captured him talking with a sports agent about paying $100,000 to ensure star player Deandre Ayton signed with the Wildcats. 

Miller called the allegations “false and defamatory.”

An attorney for the Ayton family denied any payment. 

When the allegations broke in late February, Miller did not coach Arizona’s game against Oregon. He returned less than a week later, after university officials met with Miller and consulted with attorneys. 

Robbins, the University of Arizona president, announced that Miller would remain head coach of the men’s basketball team.

“At this time, we have no reason to believe Coach Miller violated NCAA rules or any laws,” Robbins said at the time. “I believe that if the FBI had evidence Coach Miller had done anything wrong, you would have seen him indicted.”

Miller said in a March 1 news conference that he has never knowingly violated NCAA rules while serving as head coach.

“I have never paid a recruit or prospect or their family or representative to come to Arizona. I never have and I never will. I have never arranged or directed payment or improper benefits to a recruit or prospect or family or representative and I never will,” he said. 

Miller said “the one time someone suggested to me paying a player to come to the University of Arizona I did not agree to it. It never happened and that player did not come to the University of Arizona.”

Miller declined to name the student-athlete out of respect for privacy and the ongoing federal investigation.

Miller, when asked about the federal investigation since then, has repeatedly referred reporters to his March 1 statement.

Reach the reporter at anne.ryman@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8072. Follow her on Twitter at @anneryman

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