ESPN reported that Phelps has been accused of a violation regarding former Arizona commit Shareef O’Neal’s academic transcripts. Jeff Goodman of Stadium added more details, saying the violation pertained to a “fraudulent online course.”
The UA said the issue is “not related to the federal criminal proceedings in New York or the NCAA’s review of the facts underlying the allegations of unlawful conduct” which makes the timing of Phelps’ firing odd.
Goodman, who is probably the most connected person to Arizona basketball, explained why in a video on Stadium’s Twitter account.
“What you need to know here is the NCAA still hasn’t concluded its investigation into this online course involving Shareef O’Neal and Mark Phelps, so that’s the interesting part,” Goodman said. “Why would the school start the process of firing Mark Phelps when the NCAA has not yet completed its investigation? That’s what has people confused to some degree. What I’ve been told, according to a couple sources, that this is ideally for the school to build a case and get as much information so that if they have to fire Sean Miller, they have as much information to do so as possible.”
Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke said in a statement that Miller “fully supports” the decision to fire Phelps, but Goodman would not be surprised if Miller is the next one to go.
After all, Phelps is Miller’s second assistant coach to be suspended/fired for misconduct. Ex-assistant Book Richardson was fired before last season after his involvement in the college basketball corruption scandal, and he recently pleaded guilty to bribery and could spend 18 to 24 months in prison.
NCAA Bylaw 11.1.1 states that the “the head coach will be held accountable for violations in the program unless he or she can rebut the presumption of responsibility.”
“We never thought (Miller) would survive a year ago when ESPN wrote its story. Everybody thought Sean Miller was a dead man walking at that point,” Goodman said. “I talked to people close to Sean Miller and they said he thought he was done. He survived that, so I’m not going to say never say never, but I think the odds are stacked against him.”