The NCAA has charged Arizona with five Level I rules violation allegations, including two alleged instances of academic misconduct within the men’s basketball program, according to a notice of allegations the university released to ESPN on Friday through an open records request.
Arizona released the notice of allegations in response to a Maricopa County judge’s order issued Monday. The school had denied requests from ESPN and other media outlets last fall to release the record, and the network sued in January.
Among the charges, former Wildcats assistant coaches Emanuel “Book” Richardson and Mark Phelps are charged with violating the principles of ethical conduct, engaging in preenrollment academic misconduct and/or providing an impermissible recruiting inducement “when they knowingly arranged for false academic transcripts for two then men’s basketball prospective student-athletes.”
Among the Level I allegations, the NCAA charged men’s basketball coach Sean Miller for not demonstrating “that he promoted an atmosphere for compliance and monitored his staff.”
“Miller failed to demonstrate he promoted compliance by not establishing that compliance was a shared responsibility within the men’s basketball program, not setting clear expectations that his coaching staff comply with NCAA legislation and not require the immediate reporting of actual and potential violations to the compliance staff for an independent inquiry,” the NCAA notice of allegations said.
The report said “two of Miller’s three assistant coaches committed intentional violations involving fraudulent academic transcripts, receipt of cash bribes, facilitating a meeting with an aspiring agent, impermissible inducements and recruiting violations all within an 18-month period. The ultimate responsibility for the integrity of the men’s basketball program rested with Miller and his staff’s actions reflect on Miller as the head coach.”
NCAA enforcement staff alleged that Miller “failed to demonstrate” that he monitored Phelps and Richardson regarding their involvement with the prospects.
“Specifically, while Miller knew both prospects had significant academic deficiencies to overcome in order to be academically eligible, Miller failed to ask his staff pointed questions and did not actively look for red flags regarding the circumstances and timing of the prospective student-athletes’ academic eligibility,” the notice said.
Miller is also accused of failing to demonstrate that he monitored Richardson and the men’s basketball program’s relationship with Christian Dawkins.
Dawkins, an aspiring business manager, was one of three men who were found guilty for their roles in pay-for-play schemes to influence high-profile basketball recruits to attend Kansas, Louisville and NC State. Dawkins and former Adidas consultant Merl Code were convicted in a separate trial for bribing assistant coaches at Arizona, Oklahoma State, South Carolina and USC.
The NCAA enforcement staff alleged that Miller knew an unidentified Arizona player utilized Dawkins to decide whether to enter the NBA draft, but Miller did not ask pointed questions of the player or his coaching staff regarding “the origin and nature of the relationship.”
After the player decided to return to Arizona, the NCAA alleges, Miller knew that the player and Dawkins maintained a relationship, but Miller “failed to conduct any additional inquiry regarding the nature of the [player’s] relationship with Dawkins or Richardson’s knowledge of and involvement in the relationship between [the player] and Dawkins.”
Among aggravating factors in the case, NCAA enforcement staff noted that Miller “negligently disregarded” violations.
Arizona’s athletic department is also charged with lack of institutional control for “failure to establish a culture of compliance within the men’s basketball program.”
The enforcement staff alleged that Arizona “refused to share the factual findings of its external investigation related to the men’s basketball program despite the enforcement staff taking every possible accommodation to protect attorney-client privilege; the director of athletics and head of compliance discussed and drafted talking points related to the external and NCAA investigation that demonstrated from the outset a lack of commitment to cooperation and acceptance of responsibility; and the institution’s outside counsel and head of compliance, at the direction of the president, conducted an unrecorded interview with Richardson without first notifying and/or involving the enforcement staff despite being engaged in a collaborative investigation and knowing Richardson was a key individual the enforcement staff wanted to interview.”
Richardson, who was one of 10 men arrested in September 2017 for their involvement in bribery and pay-for-play schemes in a federal investigation into college basketball, is also charged with accepting $20,000 in cash bribes from representatives of LOYD, Inc., a business management company that sought to represent the players once they turned pro. Dawkins was a representative of LOYD, Inc.
Phelps is accused of providing an impermissible $500 loan to an Arizona player, instructing a then-men’s basketball player to delete a text message related to an NCAA violation and knowingly providing false or misleading information to the institution and NCAA enforcement staff, and directing an Arizona player to assist in the recruiting of two potential recruits.
The school argued that releasing the notice of allegations would violate the NCAA’s confidentiality rules and subject the school to harmful sanctions. In siding with ESPN, Superior Court Judge Joseph P. Mikitish wrote that Arizona “put forth no evidence” that the NCAA or other related body has ever penalized a public university for releasing a notice of allegations in response to a records request.
Mikitish wrote that while Arizona officials said they wanted to limit harm caused by “unproven allegations circulating in the media,” public records exemptions to protect a government agency do not exist to “save an officer or public body from inconvenience or embarrassment.”
The Wildcats received the notice of allegations in October but initially declined to release it publicly. The case will be adjudicated through the Independent Accountability Resolution Process, which is handling similar cases involving basketball programs at Kansas, Louisville and NC State.
During the federal government’s investigation into bribes and other corruption in college basketball, Richardson told undercover FBI agents that he paid $40,000 to a high school coach to ensure that former Arizona guard Rawle Alkins was academically eligible to play for the Wildcats, according to a transcript of a meeting obtained by ESPN from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York.
During a June 20, 2017, meeting with Dawkins, financial planner Munish Sood and two undercover FBI agents, Richardson said that Alkins needed one more class to be eligible under NCAA rules, and that an unidentified coach wanted $40,000 to add the class to his official transcript.
“It’s ingenious,” Richardson said, according to the transcript of the meeting. “Initially, I was mad at his high school coach, but I would say it’s ingenious. He said, ‘Book, I need $40,000 to get this on his transcript. If he does not get this class, he’s gonna be a partial qualifier. He’s not gonna have 16 credits to graduate.’
“So long story short, I said OK. You need 40 grand for that class. He said, ‘Yes, Book, because it’s not just me doing it. I gotta take care of some people.’ I said, ‘[Expletive] you I’m not doing it.’ Tried to play poker and one week turned into a month, and I said, ‘Oh s—.'”
The interview transcript was part of the evidence from a federal criminal trial in 2019, when Dawkins and Code were convicted of paying bribes to Richardson, former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans and former USC assistant Tony Bland to steer their players to Dawkins’ sports management company and certain financial planners.
In late December, Arizona announced it was self-imposing a one-year postseason ban as a “proactive measure in its ongoing NCAA enforcement process,” which will keep the Wildcats out of this season’s Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments.
“I understand and fully support the University’s decision to self-impose a one-year postseason ban on our Men’s Basketball program,” Miller said in a statement. “Our team will remain united and aggressively compete to win a PAC-12 championship.”
Alkins, who played at Arizona for two seasons before turning pro in 2018, attended Christ the King Regional High School in Queens, New York, for three years and then Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina, for his senior year.
“I tried to get someone else to get him a summer school course,” Richardson said during the meeting, according to the transcript. “Couldn’t do it because what [the coach] had was a seal. He had the school seal, and the great thing about the seal that he had, the school, and Bishop Ford closed down in Brooklyn, so you can’t investigate. You can’t investigate. So when the NCAA says I need to see the coursework and all — the school’s closed.”
Richardson told the undercover FBI agents that Alkins didn’t receive any of the $40,000 he allegedly paid the high school coach. Alkins played 10 games for the Chicago Bulls during the 2018-19 season. He signed with the Pelicans on Dec. 4, 2020, and was waived at the end of training camp later that month.
“I felt that the kid was being done an injustice and a disservice because what — the high school coach again, it was ingenious, but when you bamboozle everyone and that kid didn’t get any of the 40, that’s the problem I have,” Richardson said.
“Because his mom still, she’s gotta get places. And that was my whole point. If I do something for you guys, I wanna make sure that mom, she’s at every game. So she’s not [expletive] with us. ‘Cause I’ve always said this: When you give someone something ahead of time and say, ‘Hey, you book these tickets’ — now they’re not calling you two days ahead to say, ‘Oh, Book, you’re not gonna believe it. I never booked this flight. Only thing that’s left is first class and it’s $1,500 one way.’ What? So season’s going on. I’m like, ‘Just do it.’ So I had ‘just do it’ moments for the last seven years and that’s not benefited me.”
Richardson, who worked as an Arizona assistant from 2009 to 2017, pleaded guilty in January 2019 to accepting $20,000 in bribes and was sentenced to three months in prison and two years of probation as part of a plea agreement.
During the meeting, Richardson also told the undercover agents that he was paying Alkins’ cousin, Rodney Labossiere, $2,000 per month after he moved to Tucson, Arizona.
“I told his cousin, ‘I’ll give you two grand a month to make sure that he works,'” Richardson said. “But he brought him, his wife and his child. Wrong move.”
In February 2019, Arizona suspended Phelps and “initiated the process” to terminate him because of an alleged NCAA violation, his attorney told ESPN at the time. The school didn’t renew his contract after the 2018-19 season.
Sources told ESPN that Phelps is accused of a violation regarding former Arizona recruit Shareef O’Neal’s academic transcripts. O’Neal, the son of former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, was committed to the Wildcats in 2017 before signing with UCLA and sitting out the 2018-19 season with a heart condition. He transferred to LSU in February 2020.
Two other Level II violations included in the notice of allegations involved Arizona’s swimming and diving programs.