Spotlight Not Just On Arizona’s Sean Miller, But College Basketball

The FBI investigation into several of the nation’s top college basketball programs, including the University of Arizona and coach Sean Miller, has sent shockwaves throughout the sport. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)

By Omar Soussi

PHOENIX – A report that an FBI wiretap intercepted University of Arizona coach Sean Miller discussing payments to a star basketball player has raised questions about the past and future of college basketball, but many observers say the current firestorm is no surprise.

“I saw it; it happened in front of us,” said former agent Sam Renault, now assistant director of the sports law and business program at Arizona State’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “There were players that I lost because I wasn’t willing to play this way. But it’s not a surprise. This is happening everywhere. It’s the cost of doing business if that’s the world you want to be in.”

On Friday, ESPN reported the FBI had recorded a conversation involving Miller and the possible payment of $100,000 to Deandre Ayton, now a standout freshman with the Wildcats. Miller didn’t coach on Saturday in the Wildcats’ loss to the Oregon Ducks in Eugene.

Renault, who mostly represented NFL players and coaches, believes “the average fan probably doesn’t realize the extent to which all this goes on.”

“There’s a lot of prominent people who are on TV now who were involved in this and have talked about it in the past, but it really is, it’s everywhere, it’s something that’s pretty commonplace,” Renault said. “Not everyone is doing it, but there’s enough where it really doesn’t come as a surprise.”

Young basketball players are prey for unscrupulous figures, Renault said. The unregulated club-basketball scene makes it easy to access the aspiring stars and their families.

Ayton’s parents have denied involvement in any illegal activity as their son looked at colleges. As a junior and senior, Ayton attended Phoenix Hillcrest Prep Academy, where he teamed with Duke standout Marvin Bagley III.

“You can identify a star player in basketball as early as eighth, ninth grade,” Renault said. “So it’s much easier for agents to identify and invest early in the top talent.”

Miller has not commented since the report but did issue a statement saying he was confident he would be vindicated.

If the report is true, Miller could be indicted on federal charges. But that likely isn’t the end of things, said Monica Lindstrom, a metro Phoenix attorney and legal commentator.

“This could lead to other people at the UofA and perhaps other coaches and individuals in other schools and universities,” she said. “It could also tie into certain players. If the players or the players’ families were paid, it’s possible that they would be involved in the legal wranglings as well.”

If untrue, Miller could take action, Lindstrom said.

“It is possible if this conversation never occurred, if the conversation is not in a wiretap and Sean Miller had no conversation whatsoever with Christopher Dawkins that was similar to this, that Miller could turn around and go after the reporter and his sources for defamation,“ Lindstrom said. “That’s a very difficult case when you go against the media like that, but if the media did not have a good-faith basis and evidence to go forth, then Sean Miller could have a good case.”

The FBI several years ago set up new policies to pursue public corruption, and because state universities are publicly funded, they’re under the scrutiny of the FBI. How deep will the agency pursue the corruption?

Renault said he couldn’t say for sure, but added, “I think with the FBI involved and the scope of what it looks like they’re uncovered so far … it’s possible that the FBI is going stop at some point and realize that this is just too big or maybe it’s not worth pursuing or they don’t have the resources to do it.”

As for cleaning up college basketball in the future, there may be no easy answer. Some think this latest scandal makes a strong case for paying players.

“I think there’s a good argument to make this a free market,” Renault said. “You’ve got a lot of people advocating for that where players should be able to profit off of their own abilities. But I think it would undermine the entire system as it stands now, and I don’t think there’s a good solution in place that we could shift to that without a lot of major issues in doing that.

“But if you did allow players to at least profit off of their name, image and likeness, and maybe not their athletic abilities, then maybe that would put a stop to this to some degree.”

12 Comments

  1. The whole college recruiting system is so convoluted that it can’t be patched up and be honest. Only way to solve the mess is for he NBA and NFL to set up a farm system, like baseball, and the colleges can be true academic institutions. After all, do we need more educated people or more slam-dunks ??

  2. I think the UofA will lose a early round in the dance come home and this will be over, oh except that Miller will announce his ‘retirement’ – keep the money and walk away, perhaps to a ‘pro’ job, he’s young enough, skilled enough… and this will ‘save Arizona’ who will buy another coach and start again, but not start over… which is vastly different – win’ win… and the NCAA will say lets stick our thumb in our bum, pull it out and say what good boy’s we are! It smells like bum!

  3. Here is the problem I have with this so called wiretap. If Miller was indeed recorded talking about a bribe for a player that is an arrest able offense and the FBI would have certainly not let him slip through the cracks to destroy evidence. He would have been arrested and someone made a valid point that Miller and his lawyers couldn’t get to that wiretap information because he is NOT a defendant and only the defendants and their attorneys are able to get that info. It makes me wonder how involved Book Richardson and his lawyers are in this trying to throw Miller under the bus. Miller may be guilty. I personally think if he knew he should be fire and if he didn’t know he should be fired for not knowing what his coaches were doing. The buck stops with him.

  4. I feel they are already getting paid if they have an athletic scholarship. Not that they ever attended classes and are passed anyway. This pay for play has gone on forever. Ask any paying student who see these athletes rol around town in expensive SUVs and cars.

    • I believe the student athletes “do” attend class, must pass, must keep specific grade averages or they are ‘dropped’ – don’t know where your source is, but I’d like to know that source… or is that just you pontificating ?

      • I remember in the College of Business, a Personnel Management class where on the first day there weren’t enough seats it was so packed. Next class, half empty. 20 football players showed the first day and never again. That was many years ago but fear it may be worse.

      • No I’m not pontificating. Daughter in law attended UA. Her mother even was a professor there. She, first hand had classes where these athletes didn’t show and were passed. Fast forward in time, my former high school students who went on to UA. Same observations. So as a person that prides myself on speaking the truth, I wouldn’t have said anything that wasn’t the truth. Go back in time and look up the news for the athletes who had dui arrests and what they were driving at the time and living in nice apartments off campus.

  5. The Palace of Liberalism, the UA, is exposed as not much more than a Plantation, exploiting young black men to line their pockets, indentured servants.

    Really no different than how liberals exploit illegals to line their pockets and grow their power.

    Will Greg Byrne and Ann Hart be held accountable? No, no, no.

    • UA depends on taxpayers to fund the stadium, pay their salaries, keep TV royalties, and then buy tickets while they pocket the profits. Did I hear correctly that the NCAA is a non profit corporation? (501c3)

      I will sign a WH Petition to rescind their tax status. This is just crazy.

      Help us Mr President to right this wrong.

    • Actually someone did take notice and a class action lawsuit was filed a few years ago about the players not re ceiling any payment for their names and likenesses in advertising and video games etc etc and now the NCAA has stopped doing that but nothing more has changed really

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