ESPN’s College GameDay is in Tucson Saturday morning, with the crew sticking around to broadcast Arizona’s game with Oregon later that night.
It’s kinda noteworthy.
Not because the game is on ESPN. While generally a good sign (the network rarely puts bad teams or matchups on its air), the Wildcats have played on the Worldwide Leader’s network a number of times.
No, this game is noteworthy because it’s the first time the GameDay crew, consisting of Rece Davis along with Jay Bilas, LaPhonso Ellis and Seth Greenberg, will be in the Old Pueblo for the first time since ... umm...all that stuff went down in September 2017.
And then again in February 2018, when the network reported Sean Miller had been fired when he most definitely had not been.
There were also articles written, tweets sent and comments made by various ESPN personalities and journalists that did nothing to endear them the Arizona fan base or, in hindsight, provide an appearance of journalistic impartiality or integrity.
Remember when Bilas said he couldn’t imagine Miller coaching another game? That was in February 2018.
Suffice to say Jay was wrong. He was also not alone, as Greenberg piled on with his colleague.
“It’s incomprehensible, and I totally agree Jay in that I cannot imagine a scenario, knowing Sean Miller since he was probably about 5 years old, that he would be in this situation.
“To me it’s sobering, it kinda makes me angry, it’s disappointing, and he’s going to be held accountable. And you can’t deny the facts. The facts are the facts. And the consequences are simple. He will not coach another game at Arizona. Deandre Ayton will not play another game at Arizona. And the games that he did play? They will be forfeited and Arizona will not play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Even now, all these years and a new coach later, Greenberg had no interest in issuing any kind of mea culpa when given an opportunity while speaking with Tucson media on Friday.
“First of all, we don’t know that because that’s still in the middle of a court hearing,” he said when asked about his thoughts now that much of what he and others professed some four years ago has proven to be unsubstantiated. “So let’s, you know, not un-substantiate or substantiate.
“What I said was from the information that was given to me, I gave an opinion. And that opinion was based on information that I had received.”
Ignoring the fact that there’s no court hearing, the truth is Greenberg, just like many of his colleagues and other media folk around the nation, got caught up in a narrative that made for great commentary but poor reporting. Arizona fans were justifiably upset over it all, seeing their coach and program dragged through the mud while others who were also caught up in the scandal generated nary a word or hot take.
If Miller or Arizona were proven to be cheaters then yes, they deserved to be punished and the school would be righteously pilloried. But why was Arizona the face of misconduct that included the likes of Auburn, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Louisville, USC and others?
The Arizona Men’s Basketball Program was a punching bag for the national media; big enough to be a story but not too big to where bringing it down would cause great harm to the sport.
That was reality; many of the accusations being levied against the coach and program were not.
Although time has passed and Miller is gone, the wounds from it all are still fresh. Given the Arizona fan base’s recent reputation for using colorful language, there’s a reasonable chance the ESPN crew will not feel welcome when the set up and broadcast.
It’s understandable. It also shouldn’t happen.
Not because the talking heads don’t deserve some level of ridicule, because they most certainly do. But in this case, GameDay is a chance to show that Arizona has moved beyond the investigation and into a new era.
The Tommy Lloyd-led team is aesthetically pleasing, made up of likeable players and happens to be very good. Final Four good. Other than the uniforms (and the standings) they barely resemble the Miller teams the country is used to seeing, which means this very well could be the fresh start Arizona needed on the national stage.
GameDay is in town to highlight it all, with Greenberg leading the charge.
“There’s only eight College GameDays, and we chose to be in Tucson, Arizona for one of them,” he said. “And that was earned by the way this team has played. This team deserved College GameDay, this team deserved College GameDay, this team deserved recognition.
“This team deserved all the good things that’s happening to it right now.”
He also noted that Arizona fans, which he said are incredible, should put on display how their school can compete for national championships while enjoying a rich tradition. He pointed out it would be better to show recruits that Tucson is the type of place that can land College GameDay.
That, he proclaimed, makes more sense than worrying about something that happened years ago.
You know he’s right.
The four seasons prior to this one were a roller coaster for Arizona fans, with more more valleys than peaks. From the moment the news of the investigation first broke there was a tidal wave of anti-Miller and anti-Arizona sentiment, and even after it crested there was still a steady drip of rumors and accusations. To this day, many still believe what ESPN and other outlets initially reported, regardless of the actual testimony and evidence.
That’s no longer Arizona’s problem, though. People can believe what they want, because Saturday night when Benn Mathurin flies in for a dunk or Christian Koloko swats a shot, it won’t be part of the conversation.
Nor will there be any talk of Arizona’s past when Azuolas Tubelis makes a great move in the post, Kerr Kriisa hits a three or Dalen Terry does any one of the impressive things he’s more than capable of.
If any of it is brought up, it will likely be within the context of how far the program has come since then. Did ESPN and people on the College GameDay staff make things tougher? Absolutely, and that should not be forgotten.
However, the ESPN crew being in Tucson to praise and watch a first-place Arizona team with legitimate Final Four aspirations shows the Wildcats have indeed gotten the last laugh.
And with that, like the program already has, it’s time to move on.