THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: Why turmoil in Tucson matters here

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It’s not pleasant viewing.

Yet fans and alums of several universities have been watching closely as a federal corruption trial exposes the darker side of big-time college basketball.

Agents, shoe companies and some assistant coaches — at the very least — look awful over bribes paid to make sure young superstars are “delivered” to certain schools.

The idea is that the players then would remain in the hands of those same agents when big money begins splashing around as the athletes wind up in the NBA.

The unseemly notion of “buying players” already has rumbled through the Louisville program, forcing the firing of coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Now roughly a dozen more schools are feeling the heat, even though — please don’t laugh — fraud and money laundering aren’t necessarily violations in the NCAA’s massive book of rules.

But if it turns out some players or their families got money as part of this Dumpster fire, well then, the NCAA is supposed to mete out harsh justice.

SO WHY does all this concern us?

There are no allegations aimed at schools around here.

Perhaps not, but folks in the Gonzaga program are keenly viewing the trial and its aftermath, because the heat right now is most intense on the University of Arizona.

Former Wildcats assistant coach Book Richardson already has pleaded guilty to accepting money for steering players toward the trial’s two main defendants, sports agent Christian Dawkins and Adidas consultant Merl Code Jr.

And on through Arizona, as part of the process.

As part of the trial’s proceedings, jurors saw secret video tapes in which Dawkins and Richardson both said pretty plainly that Sean Miller, the Arizona head coach, knew all about the scheme and even handled some of the payments.

Miller himself didn’t appear on any tapes, he vehemently denies the allegations, and the university spent $1.4 million on outside legal help to investigate the program.

So far, Miller’s come up clean.

Even if Miller himself didn’t pay any recruits, however, the NCAA considers “lack of institutional control” as a Level 1 violation — which by itself could cause imposition of serious penalties.

And it’s tough to argue that Miller didn’t know what was going on.

HERE’S THE summary from Greg Hansen, columnist for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson…

“The FBI’s investigation into basketball corruption has neither smudged nor stained the University of Arizona’s reputation.

“It has fractured it.

“It has divided the fans, the university and the city. It’s a sick mess.”

Yes, it is, and here’s something to consider…

Turmoil in Tucson matters in Spokane.

Gonzaga and Arizona have built a neat rivalry, and — with all due respect to UCLA, Oregon, U-Dub and everyone else — the Zags and Wildcats are now pretty much the twin faces of college basketball in the West.

They battle on the court (Gonzaga visits Arizona this year on Dec. 14) and duel directly for the highest-level recruits, especially kids on this side of the country.

Both schools are believed by most rating services to have 2019 incoming classes that rank in the top five nationally.

Zags fans might be hiding smiles over Arizona’s current spot on the hot seat, and they may chuckle over speculation that Miller could lose his job.

But that would be a shortsighted view.

THE CURRENT rivalry with Arizona has assisted the Zags in their uphill climb toward national recognition — not as much as reaching five straight Sweet 16s in the NCAA tournament, no, but every chunk of nationwide interest is a recruiting bonus.

It doesn’t aid Gonzaga to see Arizona shamed.

Likewise, it won’t help if the Wildcat program punished, except in the larger sense of having a college basketball watchdog.

These two schools have a good thing going.

The best outcome for Gonzaga would be to see Book Richardson and coaches like him disappear completely from the hoops landscape.

But the entire Arizona program?


Send it through a car wash and bring it out sparkling on the other side.

I’m tempted to mention something about a hot wax job, but…

Miller and the Cats are getting that right now.

Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns for The Press appear on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Steve also contributes the “Zags Tracker” package on Gonzaga basketball once monthly during the offseason.


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