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Dan Bickley

HBO’s ‘The Scheme’ set to expose Sean Miller, Arizona’s basketball program

Arizona coach Sean Miller watches during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Washington State, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Tucson, Ariz. Washington State defeated Arizona 69-55. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Sean Miller is a natural-born villain. He’s full of sneer, snark and sweat. He’s also comfortable playing the victim. He feels persecuted by Pac-12 officials and all those reporters who drive all the way from Phoenix to harangue him for comment.

One of those bubbles is about to burst.

Those who’ve seen HBO’s “The Scheme” say Tuesday’s airing will change the way we feel about the University of Arizona’s head basketball coach. But only if you believed him in the first place.

I did not.

Miller is too controlling. Too smart and too well-versed in the language of modern players. Too in charge of everything to let anything slide. He should take that as a compliment.

Some think Miller might even lose his job. His voice will be heard on wiretap conversations with Christian Dawkins, audio clips that never aired at trial. He will sound very comfortable talking to a street agent on the subject of black market talent entering college basketball. Miller will drop many F-bombs, shocking some of the most aged among Wildcats’ season-ticket holders.

But, no. Miller will not be fired. Not for this. There is still no smoking gun. He has been openly dismissive of all accusations in the past. And just like Bill Self at Kansas, Arizona’s basketball program seems especially defiant in the face of the dreaded NOA (Notice of Allegations). They seem inclined to fight this one out until the very end, treating the NCAA with the disdain it deserves.

It’s like the entire sport is sick of the hypocrisy displayed by the governing body of college basketball, a toothless organization that takes a big chunk of the money while disciplining those who do the real work.

Here’s why it still matters:

Miller ranks among the highest-paid state employees in Arizona. He should be expected to tell the truth in public. His boorish behavior is often appalling.

College sports must never indulge the cynicism that infects the real world. Universities can’t allow their sports teams cheat, even if everyone else does. You can’t rationalize winning at all costs while sowing the seeds of truth and beauty. There must be a higher standard somewhere down the line or you will have a landscape full of cheaters and liars, a country short on ethics and character. Like America in 2020.

To be fair, elite college players deserve a cut of the action. For too long, the sport and the NCAA Tournament has generated billions of dollars on mostly-free labor. Those who argue for scholarships-as-payment have finally gone silent. What’s the cost of putting another chair in the classroom for an uninterested student who will be gone after one semester?

That’s why few basketball fans in Phoenix seem to care that Deandre Ayton’s name is in the center of the Miller’s resurgent storm, among others. It’s a victimless crime. I’d rather save my angst for Ayton on other things, like hustle plays and free-throw attempts.

But pay-for-play schemes in college basketball also guarantee a skewed playing field. They narrow the championship field to the same 10 teams, year after year. Programs that don’t have bag money don’t stand a chance. They are happy with a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio. Or some random shot at the Sweet 16.

To win a NCAA championship, you effectively need a great starting 10: five stellar recruits on the court, and five deep-pocketed, tight-lipped donors doing smart business under the table. All that talent isn’t going to pay itself.

In the end, let’s hope “The Scheme” lives up to its billing as the latest incoming meteor to hit college basketball. Let’s hope it does more than expose Miller, a great recruiter and an average coach, a big fish caught up in a big net.

Let’s hope it embarrasses a shameless sport.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier