Sean Miller Scandal Brings Uncertainty to University of Arizona Community
News of possible misconduct by University of Arizona head basketball coach Sean Miller has rocked the school’s community.
Updated: March 8, 2018 • 6:52 PM ET
Sean Miller has denied allegations of misconduct at Arizona.
When the scandal involving Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller broke, I had some inner turmoil to deal with. According to an ESPN report, FBI wiretaps intercepted telephone conversations of Miller discussing paying $100,000 to ensure Deandre Ayton played at the University. As an Arizona alumni who follows his alma mater’s athletics near religiously, I felt the same shock and devastation other Wildcats fans were likely feeling.
An FBI investigation had already begun that led to the indictment of former Arizona assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson on multiple charges, including conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. But to think that Miller was involved was something I had trouble comprehending.
I wanted to write this article when the news first broke to convey my opinions and disappointment. And contrary to what other fans might have felt, this disappointment wasn’t directed at ESPN, which broke the story, nor the FBI or NCAA for doing their jobs. No. If the allegations were true, I was disappointed in Miller.
Any fan of a blue blood program understands just how significant these allegations are. The significance isn’t in that they will simply incur punishments that could leave the team in such a depleted state that it could take them years to recover from and return to prominence. No. This was far more important than winning games and the performance of future teams. This was about the University of Arizona and the future of college basketball as a whole.
Arizona’s reputation and basketball program could be tarnished. The legacy that took Lute Olson 30 years to build in Tucson could be eviscerated with a single stroke of a pen. Thirty years. Thirty years of success that has propelled the Wildcats to becoming one of college basketball’s premier programs. That the ‘A’ worn by all those that came before, and those that will succeed them into the future, will be forever stained by this scandal.
These scandals are never forgotten. How many people can still recall the point shaving scandal of Boston College back in 1978? Who still remembers the Fab Five Folly? Even us Arizona fans will never let ASU forget about their fans who taunted Steve Kerr just after his father was assassinated.
So as a fan, I found myself in a conundrum. But most importantly, I wanted to hear what Miller had to say. When Miller finally spoke, his denial of the allegations reassured fans. A surge of confidence and relief seemed to sweep over Tucson when Miller addressed the scandal a week ago. It was like finding out that your doctor read your life-threatening diagnosis wrong. Days later, Miller and the ‘Cats went on to defeat Stanford and Cal to win the Pac-12 title.
Arizona fans want to believe in Miller. Not because he’s one of the most successful coaches in college basketball, but because he’s always appeared to be a man of integrity, both on and off the court. When one of his players was accused of sexual assault, Miller sat him. He didn’t tell the press, respecting the player’s privacy. However, Miller didn’t wait for a verdict, he removed the player. His primary reason was that the player should never have allowed himself to be in that situation in the first place. That player would later transfer.
This wasn’t the first time Miller willingly sat a player. Years ago, he sat another player who violated team rules. It didn’t matter that the player was a highly ranked recruit; he violated the rules and had to suffer the consequences. This continued until Miller finally suspended the player indefinitely, refusing to overlook the player’s poor actions because of his talent. It was decisions like this that made us confident that Miller was a coach who would put principle over winning, so hearing news that he would pay a player to come play for him was something that many of us couldn’t accept at face value.
Arizona fans weren’t alone in their thinking. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas openly spoke about his disappointment in Miller on ESPN’s College GameDay. He defended Miller back when the Arizona coach came under investigation.
Many of those who knew Miller didn’t hesitate to voice their support for him. When the ESPN article surfaced, many of those same supporters found themselves in a similar conundrum as Wildcats fans. But since the scandal broke, its inaccuracies have been under immense scrutiny, leading many fans to regain confidence in Miller’s innocence.
With the Pac 12 Tournament beginning and March Madness just days away, Miller has returned to the helm to lead his team with the backing of both the University and the Wildcat community. However, if these allegations turn out to be true, an already trying situation will turn out even worse.
The only people who can lay this matter to rest work within the FBI, but they haven’t disclosed anything involving Miller yet. Until then, Arizona fans must continue to support their coach and team until there’s definitive proof that Miller is guilty of these accusations.
The truth is, scandals in college basketball over the past year support the theory that the landscape of college basketball is going to change. It’s inevitable. But how will it change? Well, that’s up to the NCAA.
As an Arizona fan, I’ll continue to support Miller and the Wildcats going into the tournament and beyond. What fate lies in store, we don’t know. But know this: Tucson, nor the fans, will ever give up on our program. Even if Arizona is sanctioned, fully expect the McKale Center to continue to be full for every game because we will do what we always do, Bear Down.