In response to its first major men's basketball NCAA violation case in over a quarter century, Arizona self-imposed sanctions that could impede new coach Sean Miller's attempt to rebuild the program.
However, the school did not impose a postseason ban in the sanctions that will be introduced to the NCAA Committee on Infractions formally in April and finalized by the NCAA sometime afterward. The NCAA could approve or add to the sanctions, UA compliance director Bill Morgan said.
The recruiting-oriented violations occurred in 2006-2008 under former coach Lute Olson. They mostly revolve around the now-defunct Arizona Cactus Classic youth basketball tournament and will result in Miller's having one less scholarship to give in 2011-12, losing some recruiting days on the road this July and having fewer campus visits. Normally, programs are allowed to offer 13 scholarships and host recruits for 12 campus visits per year.
The UA also announced it would eliminate the UA Rebounders Club board of directors after the NCAA alleged that the Rebounders gave Cactus Classic organizer Jim Storey a total of $197,000 to help fund recruiting events in violation of NCAA rules. The school also said it would no longer allow youth basketball events on campus, require prior approval of guest speakers who want to address a sports booster group, revise its booster brochure and enhance education efforts.
Miller and UA acting athletic director Kathleen "Rocky" LaRose declined to comment in detail on the UA's response to the NCAA, obtained by the Star on Friday through a public-records request.
"This case is still pending before the NCAA, so at this point I can't speak directly to anything," LaRose said. "This has been quite a lengthy and ongoing process, one in which the university fully cooperated with the NCAA and worked hand-in-hand with the interviews and the investigation as it progressed."
Cost of sanctions
Miller, meanwhile, said Friday morning in Spokane, Wash., that he felt good about the program's future.
"I'm very optimistic and very confident in our future and have always been optimistic and confident knowing what I know now," Miller said. "One of the reasons I do have great confidence in our compliance and athletic department is that they have been extremely diligent in their approach to dealing with it.
"Everybody at Arizona has been very upfront and honest, and that goes back to early April prior to me becoming the coach at Arizona, and the news today is not a surprise. Again, I have great confidence in our athletic department. I know that they're very diligent. They take compliance very seriously and to me they're all looking forward. I look at our future as being very bright."
The loss of a 2011-12 scholarship is likely to be less costly than a 2010-11 scholarship because Miller already has 12 players lined up for next season - and says he still hopes to add another one or two players this spring. The UA needs a big man and a point guard to help replace Nic Wise.
By 2011-12, there is a chance the Wildcats could have transfers or early pro departures that would free up other scholarships.
Miller said he told the UA players of the school's decision, though forward Derrick Williams said they were not worried that the case would affect their postseason hopes. "He really didn't say much about it," Williams said.
Four current UA players - Jamelle Horne, Kyle Fogg, Alex Jacobson, and Brendon Lavender - were involved in the Cactus Classic along with hundreds of other recruitable athletes.
The NCAA alleged that part of the athletes' expenses were paid for by the Rebounders Club, which Olson asked to "step up" and support Storey's events. Storey, the former publisher of the recruiting-oriented Goazcats.com, organized three Cactus Classic events and one single game involving Virginia prep power Oak Hill Academy. One-time UA signee Brandon Jennings played for Oak Hill.
The Rebounders contributed $197,000 to four events organized by Storey, and Storey used that money to pay for a portion of the participants' expenses, the NCAA said. The NCAA also alleged that two UA assistant coaches discussed with Storey which teams would be invited to the 2006 Cactus Classic.
The NCAA also alleged that two incoming assistant coaches - Russ Pennell and Mike Dunlap - were allowed to watch part of the 2008 Cactus Classic against NCAA rules. The showcase is not open to active Division I coaches.
Further, the NCAA said a former UA assistant coach acted contrary to the principles of ethical conduct by refusing to cooperate with the NCAA investigation. The name of the coach is redacted but the UA's response said it was Miles Simon, whose contract was not renewed after the 2007-08 season.
Finally, the NCAA said Olson was misleading when he initially said he did not sign a letter to the Rebounders Club asking for financial support, that Olson did not foster an atmosphere of compliance and that the UA failed to monitor the men's basketball program in regard to the four events Storey held.
Storey did not reply to messages left Friday, while Olson was unavailable for comment.
Olson did not participate in the NCAA's interviews. Matthew Elliott, Olson's Boston-based lawyer from Ropes & Gray LLP, said Friday in a release that Olson could not meet with officials because of his health.
"He is saddened by the NCAA's accusations, but, on the advice of his physician, is not able to participate in the investigation or related proceedings," it read. "He is hopeful that the process will result in a just outcome."
Simon, now a college basketball television analyst, also did not respond to a message left Friday.
Pima College associate head coach Jim Rosborough, whom Olson dropped from his staff in May 2007, said he was interviewed twice about the case but had been focused solely on UA's summer camps for younger, non-elite players.
"Outside of that, my involvement was nil," Rosborough said.
USC coach and former UA interim coach Kevin O'Neill also confirmed Friday that he was interviewed by the NCAA.
"And I know nothing more about the investigation," said O'Neill, whose Trojans have self-imposed a postseason ban this season. "I have enough problems of my own."
The NCAA asked the UA to provide interview transcripts from Morgan; Storey; former coaches Josh Pastner, Matt Brase, O'Neill and Rosborough; former UA basketball secretary Monica Armenta; and former athletic director Jim Livengood.The UA also redacted names of several others interviewed.
Although Olson has left the UA and Storey no longer runs the Cactus Classic or Goazcats.com, LaRose said a concern remains.
"It's still the institution," she said, "and for that we need to continue to maintain our standards and cooperate fully."
NCAA allegations, UA responses, point by point
Here's a look at the NCAA's six allegations against Arizona, and the Wildcats' response, obtained during the Star's public-records request that stretched 12 months. Source documents are the NCAA's Notice of Allegations, mailed to UA President Robert Shelton on Oct. 30, 2009, and the Wildcats' response finalized Friday:
1a. NCAA Allegation
Jim Storey, former publisher of Goazcats.com, conducted four high school events from 2006-08 in violation of NCAA bylaws - the annual Cactus Classic from 2006-08 and the Goazcats.com Showdown on Dec. 22, 2007.
From 2006, former UA coach Lute Olson introduced Storey at meetings of the Rebounders, the UA's basketball booster group, and called the events an important recruiting tool. In October 2007, Olson told the group to "step up" and support the events. In March 2008, he sent a "personal and confidential" letter stressing the Cactus Classic's importance. As a result, Rebounders members contributed more than $197,000 for the events.
The information was "substantially correct," and Olson provided Storey "with access to other representatives so he could attempt to raise funds." A violation did not occur simply when funds were contributed.
1b. NCAA Allegation
For the three Cactus Classic events, Storey paid a portion of high schoolers' lodging, meals and local transportation with Rebounders money.
"Substantially correct," but money was used to pay for tournament-related costs and paid to teams, not the athletes themselves. Sums "in the tens of dollars" were paid for expenses - a total "less than the $197,000 amount" referenced above.
1c. NCAA Allegation
Storey spoke with UA assistant coaches before the 2006 Cactus Classic about which teams - and UA recruits - would be invited.
"Partially correct." The UA "does not agree that there is sufficient credible evidence" those conversations took place. The UA believes the two alleged coaches were Josh Pastner and Miles Simon, based on an interview given by former UA associate head coach Jim Rosborough.
2. NCAA Allegation
Olson arranged for assistants Mike Dunlap and Russ Pennell to attend the 2008 Cactus Classic before they were officially hired - despite the fact it was a quiet period for recruiting - and the two evaluated recruits.
"Partially correct." The UA said there was not "sufficient" evidence to say Olson "arranged" for their attendance. However, even if the two men were considered by the NCAA to already be the responsibility of the university, the UA believes the violations are secondary.
3. NCAA Allegation
Former UA assistant basketball coach Miles Simon refused to interview with the NCAA about the allegations.
That coach eventually met with the NCAA on Nov. 18, 2009.
4. NCAA Allegation
When approached on April 16 and 23, 2008, by UA compliance officer Bill Morgan, Olson denied drafting the "personal and confidential" letter - when, in fact, he did.
Olson "was involved in the initial drafting of the letter and he did instruct that it be mailed to members of the Rebounders Board of Directors." Monica Armenta, Olson's since-deceased secretary, said Olson dictated a rough draft over the phone to her. She typed it and sent it to director of basketball operations Matt Brase for review. Brase, also Olson's grandson, said he sent a copy of the draft to Storey, who said he told Brase it "looks good." Brase made a few edits and Armenta mailed the letter. Storey said Olson called him later to ask who authorized the letter.
On April 16, 2008 Morgan said Olson denied it was his signature and then questioned his staff members. A week later, after Morgan spoke with Olson's staff, who said he dictated the letter, Olson still denied it. Morgan said Olson was agitated. Morgan told Olson to write a retraction letter, and the UA filed a report to the Pac-10 Conference.
The UA said it does not know if Olson "knowingly" provided false information, in part because of his health. "A substantial question exists as to whether Olson knew, at the time he denied the sending of the letter, that he was reporting false decision making," the UA said. The UA "cannot conclude" whether he did.
5. NCAA Allegation
From the 2005-06 to 2007-08 seasons, Olson failed to monitor aspects of his program and maintain an atmosphere of compliance.
"Some of the information in this allegation is correct, and some is incorrect." The UA agrees that Olson allowed Storey to solicit funds, but maintains any violations show Olson "failed to correctly understand/ apply certain nuances" of NCAA law, in light of his health issues.
6a. NCAA Allegation
From spring 2006 to spring 2008, the UA failed to monitor the UA's involvement in Storey's four events. In addition to attending Rebounders meetings and selecting recruits in association with UA coaches, Storey used the conference room near the men's basketball offices as his primary work stage before the 2006 event.
"Partially correct." The UA agreed that Storey spoke to the Rebounders and used a conference room - the latter of which it said was "not contrary" to NCAA rules - but said there was insufficient evidence to prove he discussed recruits with coaches.
6b. NCAA Allegation
During the 2007-08 season, Scott MacKenzie, then the associate athletics director for development, was in attendance at the Rebounders meeting with Olson when he asked boosters to "step up," and also received a copy of the "personal and confidential" letter. Morgan interviewed Olson on April 16; unbeknownst to Morgan, the coach had held a special Rebounders meeting the day before in which he let Storey ask for money.
The UA asked Storey not to accept money after the "personal and confidential" letter was sent, and believed him when he said he received no money directly from the letter. The NCAA found records indicating that was incorrect.
"Substantially correct." MacKenzie's failure to report the actions "resulted in a limited failure to monitor" the team, although he said he immediately reported the letter to the compliance office. Upon learning of the letter, the UA instructed Olson to mail a retraction and instructed Storey not to accept further donations. Because boosters were also solicited by other means, the UA said there was "no specific evidence" connecting it to the letter.
NCAA investigation breakdown
The University of Arizona men’s basketball program placed itself on probation in a letter to the NCAA on Friday after the athletic department found recruiting violations from 2008. This is the first major NCAA violation for the basketball program since 1984.
The NCAA made six allegations about former head coach Lute Olson; former assistant coaches including Jim Rosborough, Miles Simon, Josh Pastner, Russ Pennell, Mike Dunlap and Reggie Geary; and former Goazcats.com publisher and tournament director Jim Storey.
Included in the allegations are that Olson wrote a letter in support of a youth basketball tournament on a UA letterhead, trying to raise money for the tourney; two UA assistants scouted players illegally; Olson lied to the UA about the letter and failed to monitor his program; and the athletic department failed to properly oversee the team.
What happened Friday
The UA athletic department responded to the NCAA, stripping itself of one scholarship in the 2011-12 season, placing itself on probation and limiting recruiting for the next two seasons. The self-reported sanctions will not affect postseason status.
President Robert Shelton, compliance director Bill Morgan, coach Sean Miller and the athletic director will meet with the NCAA Committee on Infractions at its April meeting. The NCAA can modify the Wildcats’ punishment following the meeting; if so, the UA can appeal.