Sean Miller and Arizona men's basketball avoid major penalties from NCAA

Arizona head coach Sean Miller looks on during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Southern California, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
Former Arizona coach Sean Miller escaped personal sanctions from the NCAA regarding its investigation into academic misconduct and recruiting violations. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Xavier men’s basketball coach Sean Miller was not sanctioned by the NCAA’s Independent Resolution Panel regarding accusations of misconduct against the Arizona basketball program while Arizona won’t receive any further postseason ban or any other major sanctions.

Miller was the head coach at Arizona when an NCAA investigation resulted in five Level I allegations against the Wildcats for academic misconduct and recruiting violations. One of the Level I charges accused Miller of failing to monitor two assistant coaches who were the focus of the investigation that stemmed from the infamous FBI investigation and ensuing corruption trial.

“A University of Arizona former assistant men’s basketball coach solicited and accepted $20,000 in cash bribes and paid $40,000 for a fraudulent academic transcript, another former assistant men’s basketball coach provided an impermissible benefit to a student-athlete and then directed the student-athlete to conceal the violation,” the IARP statement released Wednesday said.

The NCAA inquiry resulted in nine charges overall and led Arizona to self-impose a postseason ban in the 2020-21 season. Miller was fired in April of 2021 after Arizona went 17-9. Miller was hired at Xavier in the spring of 2022 for his second stint at the school. He was the Musketeers’ coach before going to Arizona in 2009.

After the FBI investigation became public and arrests were made, Miller was suspended for a week in February of 2018 but maintained that he had done nothing wrong. When the school announced that Miller would keep his job on March 1, 2018, it said that it had “no reason to believe” Miller violated NCAA rules.

Former Arizona assistant Book Richardson was one of the central figures in the federal investigation and was arrested in September of 2017 on bribery charges. A conversation between Miller and former agent Christian Dawkins — another central figure in the corruption trial — about a $100,000 payment for DeAndre Ayton to sign with Arizona was captured on wiretap.

Richardson received a 10-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA. Any school that wants to hire him for the next 10 years must go through an NCAA process. Richardson is the first coach referenced in the panel’s statement.

Mark Phelps, the second assistant coach mentioned, received a five-year show-cause penalty.

Arizona’s minor sanctions

While Miller escaped any personal sanctions from the NCAA, the sanctioning body said that Arizona’s self-imposed postseason ban in 2021 was enough for it to not impose any further postseason bans. It made clear in its statement that the self-imposition of penalties by the school helped it avoid greater punishment.

Overall, Arizona was fined $5,000, self-imposed a small reduction in basketball scholarships for the 2023-24 season, imposed a two-week ban on campus visits in March of 2022 and reduced the number of official visits in 2021-22 among other minor penalties.

The IARP’s announcement makes it seem likely that Kansas and coach Bill Self will also avoid major penalties given their self-imposed sanctions at the beginning of the 2022-23 season and the current NCAA rules that allow players to make money off of their name, image and likeness rights.

Kansas was also a part of the federal investigation and an ensuing NCAA investigation. Self missed the first four games of this season along with assistant coach Kurtis Townsend and neither coach recruited off-campus over the summer. Kansas also imposed scholarship reductions on itself along with campus visit moratoriums.

The self-imposed sanctions came after Kansas won the NCAA tournament in March.