By Recker McDowell
The clock is ticking on Sean Miller’s tenure in Tucson as head basketball coach at the University of Arizona and the political and image pressure is on the school and the Arizona Board of Regents.
ABOR and the UofA have stuck with Miller throughout a federal investigation into alleged bribes and payments to star recruits involving big college basketball programs and shoe company executives.
The latest shoe to drop in the college basketball bribery investigation landed hard on Miller and Arizona.
FBI wiretaps played this week in federal court in New York catch former Arizona assistant Book Richardson telling aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins that Miller was paying star center Deandre Ayton $10,000 per month during his one season in Tucson.
The allegation again puts Miller’s tenure in jeopardy. University administration and ABOR will have to again decide whether they will circle the wagons around the coach.
They did that last year when an ESPN story alleged a federal wiretap caught Miller talking about paying recruits. Miller strongly denied that charge and was backed up by UA President Robert Robbins and the Regents.
The Regents are appointed by the governor. They usual have to earn their political keep over tuition increases and battles with Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Republican legislators over university real estate deals and state funding.
Never mind that Miller isn’t on trial. Dawkins is and denies bribery charges. Richardson, who was also an assistant with Miller at Xavier, was charged in the bribery investigation along with assistant coaches at several other programs. Richardson lost his Arizona job and pleaded guilty to one bribery count.
Plenty of other big college basketball programs and coaches are under scrutiny in the Dawkins trial and the investigation. Some Adidas executives have also been caught up in the federal investigation including one on trial with Dawkins.
The broader story even involves Michael Avenatti, who previously represented porn star Stormy Daniels in her legal battles with President Donald Trump.
Avenatti faces federal extortion charges over his claims Nike was involved with improper payments to players. Avenatti denies the extortion charges.
The whole investigation highlights the money and potential corruption in big money college basketball and football. Arizona isn’t alone in this but Miller may end up being the one big time coach who goes down this time.
The optical and political challenge for UofA and ABOR is whether the wiretaps disclosure in court and coverage of the allegations are the last straw for Miller’s tenure.
Odds seem that way right now.