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Rooney: Pac-12’s FBI Bowl finale a fitting end to scandal-ridden season

Arizona head coach Sean Miller cuts down a net after his team's 75-61 victory over USC on Saturday to win the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.
Ethan Miller / Getty Images
Arizona head coach Sean Miller cuts down a net after his team’s 75-61 victory over USC on Saturday to win the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS — After the final horn sounded at the FBI Bowl Saturday night, with Arizona posting a 75-61 win against its fellow embattled program, USC, Wildcats head coach Sean Miller shared the perfunctory postgame handshake with his Trojans counterpart, Andy Enfield.

It was a brief exchange, but oh to be a fly buzzing around that conversation.

Saturday night’s showdown in the Pac-12 Conference championship game put to rest a league basketball odyssey that began with each of the two programs having assistant coaches — Arizona’s Emanuel “Book” Richardson and USC’s Tony Bland — arrested in the opening bombshell of the FBI college basketball recruiting probe that’s still marring the game one unseemly revelation at a time.

The Pac-12 has been in an unenviable position throughout the season, handcuffed from handing down any punishment to either Arizona or USC until all the facts are in, yet unable to discern those facts from sealed FBI reports collected in an investigation that still is ongoing.

Still, celebrating the remarkable talent on display from both teams at T-Mobile Arena over the weekend felt more than a little disingenuous.

On Thursday, when league commissioner Larry Scott held his annual tournament-week press conference, I asked the leader of the Pac-12 if there was any concern what the perception of a potential Arizona-USC matchup in the league’s marquee game might look like to the rest of the college basketball world. His response was closer to nothing-to-see here than reproachful.

“I’m not really concerned about that,” Scott said. “You can only deal with the information in front of you. I know both schools at the highest levels of the universities are treating the allegations very, very seriously. Both those schools have taken concrete steps with assistant coaches, and in USC’s case a player that they deemed ineligible to play the whole year and has since left the school. Arizona obviously sat out their coach while they were investigating and looking into situations.

“There’s no question in my mind that the leadership of the universities are taking these issues very seriously and trying take the appropriate steps, with the information they have at the moment. I know it’s a challenging environment because the information we’re reading about the schools don’t necessarily have access to directly. But I know they’re making every effort that I’m aware of to try and get as much information as they can.”

More importantly, Scott also shared a few details regarding the Pac-12 task force formed in the wake of the September arrests of Richardson and Bland. More information likely will be released in the coming weeks, but Scott described the following areas as the “four baskets” the commission has zeroed in on.

• Advocating end of NBA one-and-done rule. This is a no-brainer, and for the health of the game one hopes the NBA is on board with eliminating its requirement that even the best of the best among high school players must attend college at least one year. I have no idea if Arizona manchild Deandre Ayton received $100,000 from Miller, as was alleged in an ESPN report more than two weeks ago. But for kids in Ayton’s situation, in which their college experience ends basically at the moment their team’s season ends, why wouldn’t they take that sort of illicit payment if offered? By the time the violations are uncovered, if they’re uncovered, they’re already making their millions in the NBA and the resulting fallout is strictly the school’s problem.

• Reforming recruiting rules and the recruiting calendar to a more “scholastic” model instead of relying on the AAU system. It’s an idealistic idea, getting college coaches back in high school gyms, yet one that on the surface that seems difficult to execute. Sure, coaches can go to a high school and enjoy a one-on-one conversation with a four-star recruit. At AAU showcases they can do the same thing with dozens of recruits in a day or two. And don’t forget the universities have multi-million dollar deals with apparel companies now being painted as the bad guys. They’re not going anywhere.

• Altering existing rules so they are, in Scott’s words, “liberalized in terms of when young men and their families can have access to agents and the advice they can offer.” This is another no-brainer. College hockey prospects at elite programs like the University of Denver are allowed family advisors that help manage the transition from amateurism to professionalism. College baseball and hockey aren’t the big-business machines like basketball and football, but they aren’t golf either and feature their own TV deals and significant crowds. Yet recruiting scandals in baseball and hockey are almost non-existent.

• NCAA enforcement. An obvious issue, but another one easier to say than execute. The NCAA’s limited reach in enforcing its myriad rules helped North Carolina get off the hook from its recent academic fraud scandal. How this might look in the future, however, remains a question. The FBI has subpoena power. The NCAA does not.

For the sake of the game, hopefully some of these preliminary findings spark change once Scott and his task force share them with the similar NCAA commission formed last fall. The Pac-12 hoops season began with the arrests of Bland and Richardson ended with Scott handing the championship trophy to Miller while the Wildcats faithful filled T-Mobile with their “U-of-A!” chant. Miller then waded through the confetti to cut down the final threads of the net and hoist it triumphantly over his head.

How’s that feel, college basketball fans?

Pat Rooney: or

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