Arizona Wildcats basketball avoids postseason ban in IARP recruiting investigation ruling

The Arizona Wildcats men's basketball program has avoided significant punishments in the recruiting investigation that plagued the school under former coach Sean Miller.

The Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) unveiled its ruling Wednesday that wrapped up the case looking into NCAA infractions by the Arizona program.

Arizona's self-imposed sanctions were accepted by the process, which added a seven-week ban on recruiting for current Arizona coaches during the 2022-23 academic year, but did not include any future postseason ban for the Wildcats after Arizona had self-imposed a postseason and NCAA tournament ban in 2020-21.

"We are pleased that this five-year process is now behind us," a statement released by the Arizona Athletic Department said. "We are grateful that the panel acknowledged our extensive cooperation, as noted in the IARP press release."

The ruling handed a 10-year show-cause order to former assistant coach Book Richardson and a two-year show-cause order for former assistant coach Mark Phelps.

No sanctions were levied against former Arizona coach Sean Miller, now the coach at Xavier.

"The panel also applied significant weight to Arizona's self-imposed penalties, especially the 2020-21 postseason competition ban for its men's basketball program," the ruling said.

The IARP is comprised of lawyers and investigators that handle complex NCAA infractions cases. It was created in the wake of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

"This has been a long journey and I am glad everything is finally finished," Miller said in a statement. "I am excited to move forward. I’d like to thank my wife Amy and my entire family, (Xavier University) President Hanycz and (Xavier Director of Athletics and University Vice President) Greg Christopher for their support through the completion of this process."

Timeline:Arizona basketball NCAA recruiting investigation: Key moments from start to end

Penalties for Arizona basketball team in IARP ruling

  • Competition penalty during the 2020-21 academic year during which the men's basketball program did not participate in the postseason conference or NCAA tournament competition (self-imposed)

  • $5,000 fine, plus 1% of the average men's basketball budget based on the average of the men's basketball program's previous three total budgets (self-imposed)

  • A reduction in the total number of men's basketball scholarships for the incoming class of the 2023-24 academic year by one, from the permissible total of 13, or if a scholarship becomes available prior to the 2022-23 academic year (self-imposed)

  • A two-week ban on men's basketball campus visits during March 2022 (self-imposed)

  • A reduction in the number of official visits in men's basketball by 10% for the 2021-22 academic year (self-imposed)

  • A 15-day reduction in the number of recruiting person days for the 2021-22 academic year (self-imposed), plus an additional two-day reduction in the number of recruiting person days for the 2022-23 academic year

  • A seven-week recruiting communication (telephone and written correspondence) ban for the 2022-23 academic year

Sean Miller has avoided sanctions in the recruiting case that plagued the Arizona Wildcats during the end of his tenure in Tucson.
Sean Miller has avoided sanctions in the recruiting case that plagued the Arizona Wildcats during the end of his tenure in Tucson.

Background in the Arizona basketball recruiting case

The investigation dates back to the Sept. 26, 2017 arrest of Richardson on federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, solicitation of bribes by an agent of a federally funded organization, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, wire fraud conspiracy and travel act conspiracy. Three other college assistant coaches — USC’s Tony Bland, Auburn’s Chuck Person and Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans — were also indicted following a long-running investigation into college basketball.

The investigation took another turn the following March when ESPN reported that Miller had discussed with would-be sports agent Christian Dawkins a $100,000 payment to top prospect Deandre Ayton. Miller called the report "inaccurate and completely false" and said he was "sickened that we are in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons." In May 2019, after Dawkins was found guilty in federal court of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery, he said he "never had conversations" with Miller about delivering Ayton to Arizona.

Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star summed up the charges Arizona's men's basketball program had faced from the investigation, writing:

"UA made a strategic decision in October 2020 to request that its infractions case move off the standard NCAA resolution track and into the IARP, after the NCAA’s initial letter of allegations indicated the case would be considered at “Level I aggravated,” which can result in a postseason ban of up to five seasons. ... The Wildcats had initially faced five Level I (most serious) charges, some stemming from the federal investigation into college basketball that became public in September 2017. Arizona faced one Level I charge for academic misconduct by former assistant coaches Book Richardson and Mark Phelps, plus one for Richardson taking $20,000 in bribes from an agent in exchange for steering Wildcat players to the agent for professional representation, a charge Richardson admitted to during federal proceedings. UA also faced a Level I charge for Phelps’ alleged efforts to cover up a $500 loan he gave a player, along with Level I charges for Miller’s failure to monitor and for UA’s lack of control as an institution. Arizona was also facing four secondary violations including a Level II charge against Phelps for loaning a player $500, a Level III against Phelps for asking a current player to impermissibly help recruit, a Level II against swimming for preferential treatment and impermissible tryouts and a Level II against swim coach Augie Busch for lack of head coaching responsibility."

Pascoe added: "In October 2020, the NCAA sent Arizona a Notice of Allegations in October 2020, signaling the NCAA had finished its investigation, and the school than requested the case be moved to the IARP. The IARP formally accepted UA’s case in December 2020 but took two years to settle it. Arizona’s case added to criticism of the IARP’s slow pace, which led to its cancellation in August. The IARP is settling its remaining cases, however, with only Kansas and LSU left to finish."

Arizona's decision to have the IARP handle the case seems to have paid off in spite of the wait in light of the ruling on Wednesday, which is binding and not able to be appealed.

University of Arizona leaders comment on IARP ruling

University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins, Arizona Athletic Director Dave Heeke and coach Tommy Lloyd released statements on the ruling.

"We are pleased to have reached the end of this process with the NCAA and have great confidence in our athletics leadership," Robbins said in the statement. "The basketball program, under Tommy Lloyd, is in great hands and I look forward to another highly successful season."

Heeke said: "While many of these allegations predated current athletics staff, we are appreciative of this process coming to an end after five years. Our athletics department will continue to maintain a culture of compliance as we live the Wildcat Way and develop academic, athletic and life champions."

Lloyd said: "I am happy for our basketball program that this process has come to an end. President Robbins and Dave Heeke made it clear to me when I accepted this position how important a culture of compliance is at the University of Arizona. I am thankful that our program can continue competing for championships and representing Arizona."

More:Arizona basketball fires coach Sean Miller after 12 seasons: 'We need to move forward'

More:Newly released NCAA allegations: Bribes, fake transcripts under UA head basketball coach Sean Miller

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Wildcats basketball avoids postseason ban in recruiting ruling