Sean Miller, as you may have heard, is in some trouble. The Arizona basketball coach has reportedly been busted by the FBI offering $100,000 for DeAndre Ayton, and while there are some significant questions about that story the fact remains that Miller didn’t coach Arizona’s last game and some say he should never coach in college again.
Things are looking bad for Miller, indeed. But assuming he doesn’t wind up charged with any crimes, he can still get out of this, and I’m going to explain how.
Deny, Deny, Deny
At this point, this story depends on a single anonymous source who told ESPN’s Mark Schlabach the FBI had a recording of Miller telling a runner to deal directly with Miller when arranging payment to Ayton. But Schlabach hasn’t heard the recording, and his source is a defendant, not a member of the FBI.
So until the FBI submits those recordings for public consumption, Miller can still straight-up deny this.
Dangle a Conspiracy Theory
You gotta play this one just right, lest you wind up in a tinfoil dunce cap, but it would help Miller’s case to imply (or leak) that this accusation is not just in error, but is the result of a scheme to take down not only Sean Miller but the whole Arizona basketball program.
The advantage of floating a vague conspiracy theory is, the audience will do all the legwork for you. You don’t even need to have a plausible scenario in mind.
Just toss some conspiracy chum into the water and pretty soon they’ll have it that this whole thing was orchestrated by Vladimir Putin and Jay-Z.
Before this point, we have been dealing in scenarios where there remains reasonable doubt as to Miller’s guilt. If and/or when that is no longer the case, will have one option left.
But it’s a good option.
College basketball fans are not scandalized by this scandal, and it doesn’t take much of a leap of imagination to see Miller as gallant.
He might say something like this:
I paid that kid because no matter what the rules say, that kid, like many others, deserved to be paid for his work, and that’s all there is to it. I tell my players all the time about how character is what you do when nobody’s watching. Well, guess what. When nobody’s watching, I’m paying players, because it’s the right thing to do.
He can take this even further by saying the federal government already agrees with him on this issue, citing a 2015 decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that said some NCAA amateurism rules violate antitrust law.
Before coming after ME, the government ought to figure out where it stands on amateurism. Maybe have that Ninth Circuit send a fax to the FBI or something. Because as I see it right now, I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t.
The public is already on Miller’s side, philosophically. But for that to add up to anything he needs the public on his side, emotionally. To do that, he’ll need to position himself as a meek and regular guy to whom this all just sort of happened, more than anything.
To do that he’s going to need his friends to start talking to reporters writing feature stories. And they can tell many great tales about Miller helping this player and that one and about his devotion to some set of principles or another and admirable habits as a family man.
A former coach, perhaps someone Miller knows, can be pulled out of storage to say something like, “This system has been this way for 50 years, and it isn’t fair that one guy is getting it all pinned on him.”
If this all goes well, Miller suddenly isn’t some shadowy figure dropping bags of money in remote locations (or whatever you have in your head), he’s just some regular stooge just like you.
Yeah, you. You, at your job. You’ve done some illegal things, haven’t ya? Nothing big.You didn’t embezzle money or dump toxic waste into a swimming pool, but maybe you cut some corners to make a deal go through. See?
Everything I’ve just written is deeply cynical, but then again so is the entire operation of college basketball.