Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
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Enough is enough already.
If there remains any true leadership at either Arizona or USC, they need to do the administrative equivalent of stepping up to the free-throw line to knock down some critical shots with cold-blooded nerves at crunch time.
If there is someone, anyone, with a shred of integrity left at either institution, it’s time for them to force their men’s basketball programs into self-imposed exile for the upcoming postseason. It’s debatable whether the Pac-12 Conference would welcome the idea of leaving its biggest draw (Arizona) out of its annual postseason tournament next week in Las Vegas, but the alternative is being willing to accept the possibility of an Arizona-USC showdown in the championship game.
At this point, that matchup would be far more embarrassing to the Pac-12 than swaths of empty seats at T-Mobile Arena.
On Friday night, ESPN reported that Arizona coach Sean Miller, as part of the ongoing FBI college recruiting probe, was caught on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to ensure the services 7-foot-1 freshman Deandre Ayton. This was hours after a report from Yahoo Sports identified USC’s Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright among a list of players who allegedly received money from ASM Sports, an agency headed by former NBA agent Andy Miller. Sean Miller’s conversation reportedly was with ASM representative Christian Dawkins, one of the figures arrested last fall in the FBI’s initial burst of arrests.
Those arrests also included now-former assistants Emanuel “Book” Richardson of Arizona and Tony Bland of USC.
Self-imposing a postseason ban, even at this juncture of the season, isn’t without recent precedent. In 2016 Louisville (not exactly a bastion of integrity under former coach Rick Pitino, whose job also was a casualty of the FBI probe last fall) decided in early February to abstain from the ACC and NCAA tournaments as punishment for the program’s stripper-party scandal.
Of course, an ACC tournament without a perennial power like Louisville isn’t the same as a Pac-12 tournament without Arizona. The 15-team ACC still has Duke and North Carolina, among other draws, while anyone who has been to the Pac-12 tournament knows it’s the backers of the Wildcats — not the Bruins, Ducks, or even Buffs — that fill the arena. Folks who purchased tickets for the four-game opening day session would have to be appeased, as the most obvious 10-team tournament setup would likely include two opening-day games followed by the usual quarterfinal-semis-title game format.
Those details are manageable, but the league isn’t going to ban teams from its own tournament ahead of the time-consuming due process. Yet the Pac-12 has quietly nudged coaches like Colorado’s Tad Boyle to not address the ongoing controversies publicly. One can only hope it applies the same level of pressure to USC and Arizona to not bring their black clouds to Vegas. It launched a task force in the wake of the assistant coach arrests, a group charged with presenting ideas for change to the league’s CEO group. Supporting self-imposed bans would show the league means business in taking the forefront at shaking up the status quo. Supporting the bottom line instead would mean supporting business as usual in a climate crying for change.
On Saturday USC cleared Metu to play in its game at Utah (he recorded 14 points, nine rebounds, and four blocked shots in a pivotal win for the Trojans), apparently deciding in about 24 hours the claims made in a years-long FBI investigation were without merit (Boatwright already is sidelined with a season-ending knee injury). It was announced Saturday afternoon that Miller wouldn’t coach his Wildcats at Oregon, though Ayton was expected to play. If neither institution could bring itself to sit every character in this opera for even one game to, at the very least, take stock of the situation, the chances of a self-imposed bans are scant at best.
I guess if your wins are doomed to be vacated, might as well make the powers that be erase as many as possible. And unless reason pulls off a mighty upset, one of those wins for either USC or Arizona could conclude with history’s least anticipated net-cutting ceremony in Vegas.