Xavier men’s basketball coach Sean Miller will not face any sanctions while two of his former assistants will serve lengthy show-cause penalties in the Arizona infractions case that was adjudicated by the Independent Accountability Resolution Process panel.
In a decision announced on Wednesday, the panel said that Arizona University received lesser sanctions in part because of its decision to self-impose a postseason ban for the 2021 NCAA tournament. The school, however, must vacate all wins in which two athletes identified as “student-athlete No. 1” and “student-athlete No. 3” participated. For the ruling panel, the games impacted by “student-athlete No. 1” occurred from 2016 to 2018.
Arizona had been charged with five Level I violations from incidents that allegedly took place during Miller’s tenure there. Miller was facing a Level I charge that he “did not demonstrate that he promoted an atmosphere for compliance and monitored his staff within the basketball program.”
Former assistants Book Richardson and Mark Phelps were hit with 10-year and two-year show-cause penalties, respectively, for NCAA violations that occurred at Arizona. The panel also ruled that Arizona had “failed to monitor” both its men’s basketball and swimming and diving programs, which were also found to have committed NCAA violations.
“The hearing panel found no violation for the former head men’s basketball coach because the hearing panel determined that the former head men’s basketball coach demonstrated that he promoted an atmosphere of compliance and monitored two of his assistant coaches regarding the academic eligibility of men’s basketball prospective students -athletes, rebutting the presumption of head coach responsibility,” the panel’s ruling stated.
Miller said the IARP ruling allows him to move forward.
“This has been a long journey and I am glad everything is finally finished,” he said in a statement on Wednesday. “I am excited to move forward. I’d like to thank my wife Amy and my entire family, President [Colleen Hanycz] and [athletic director] Greg Christopher for their support through the completion of this process.”
The panel said Arizona’s decision to self-impose a postseason ban for the 2020-21 season shaped the sanctions against the program for failure to monitor. The school will pay a $5,000 fine and lose one scholarship for its incoming recruiting class, along with the vacated wins.
“The Independent Resolution Panel was intentional in not prescribing penalties that would have a negative impact on current student-athletes,” the panel said.
The 10-year show cause for Richardson, who pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting bribes to steer prospects to what the FBI called “corrupt financial managers” and served time in prison as a result, essentially banishes him from the sport for the next decade . The report also stated that Richardson paid $40,000 for a fraudulent transcript to help an athlete remain eligible. He was the only coach in the investigation charged with Level I violations.
The IARP panel stated that Richardson did not cooperate with the investigation.
“After his employment was terminated at Arizona, former assistant men’s basketball coach No. 1 failed to cooperate with NCAA enforcement staff throughout the infractions case investigation by knowingly providing false information and refusing to disclose information relevant to an investigation of possible violations, undermining and threatening the integrity of the NCAA collegiate model, according to the infractions case decision,” the panel’s ruling stated.
Phelps, who is now the head coach at Prolific Prep in Napa, California, was hit with a two-year show cause after being found to have committed Level II and Level III violations for asking a player to lie about an impermissible $500 loan, an NCAA violation, and for using an Arizona player to help him recruit two prospects at a grassroots event.
Arizona chose the Independent Accountability Resolution Process over the traditional NCAA infractions process. The IARP’s decision cannot be appealed.
This investigation has lingered for the past four years after a federal wiretap captured runner Christian Dawkins telling financial adviser Munish Sood that Miller was allegedly behind a series of five-figure payments to Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft whose controversial recruitment helped fuel headlines that led to Miller’s descent in Arizona. Miller has consistently denied that he ever paid players.
“I have never knowingly violated NCAA rules while serving as head coach of this great program,” Miller said in a statement after a 2018 ESPN report alleged he’d been caught on a wiretap discussing payments to Ayton.
Dana Welch, an IARP panelist and an arbitrator and mediator with Welch ADR in California, said Miller made an effort to emphasize the significance of compliance to his staff and his players. She also said Phelps and Richardson were deceptive in their actions.
“The record is really replete in terms of the actions the former coach took to ensure his staff and players understood the importance of compliance,” Welch said on a Zoom call after the IARP’s ruling on Wednesday. “Nearly all of the actions these two assistant coaches took were covered. … With respect to [Richardson], they were criminals. In our view, these kinds of actions could not have been detected by the head coach.”
Welch added: “We felt that the information just did not support head coach responsibility [violations for Miller].”
In a statement to ESPN, Richardson said he deserves another chance and added that a forthcoming documentary, “Open Book,” will showcase the changes he’s made in his life since he was arrested in 2017 along with three other Division I basketball assistants in the federal investigation
“With today’s release of the findings tied to the NCAA’s investigation of the University of Arizona, I finally have closure on a long and tough chapter of my life,” his statement reads. “Almost five-and-a-half years ago, I made a mistake and a poor choice in judgment. Something that has haunted me and taken away a piece of my life that’s extremely important to me: basketball. …
“A lot has happened in the last five-and-a-half years. I have been incarcerated in Otisville Federal Prison. I’ve served two years of federal supervised release. The game that I love has been taken away and I’ve been decimated to almost nothing. Even with this, I’ve used this time to become a better teacher, mentor, person, friend, uncle, brother, son and father. … September 26, 2017, is truly a day of infamy for me. A day that I can no longer allow to dictate and determine who I am. I am a coach. A coach who made a mistake, served my time and paid my debt to society.”