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N4T Investigators: AZ Regents chair demanding change at UA - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: AZ Regents chair demanding change at UA

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Tucson - The investigations at the U of A involve former coaches in at least four sports: football, basketball, track and swimming. And it's not just coaches. Football players are accused in a threatened lawsuit by the assistant to former Coach Rich Rodriguez of sending her graphic photos of themselves. And as we reported last week, a new lawsuit alleges that the U of A  knew that former football player Orlando Bradford was abusing women, and, "took virtually no action."

Bill Ridenhour oversees the state's public universities as the chair of the Arizona Board of Regents. He says he's "a proud Wildcat," class of '66. In an interview with the News 4 Tucson Investigators, Ridenhour said, "I think there needs, probably, to be blunt, in the athletic department there probably needs to be a look at the culture. I think now's a good time to sit down, and with a new athletic director, with a new president, and take a fresh look. At all of this. Now's the time to see if we can have a culture change at the University of Arizona and our athletics.

Ridenhour said one of the first changes he wants involves the multimillion-dollar payouts to fired coaches. Rodriguez walked away with $6.3 million. Todd Graham at ASU got $12 million when he was canned. "The Board of Regents does need to take a look at that," Ridenhour told us. "To make sure that these payouts, which are large and I know are concerning to the public, are mitigated or reduced as much as we could possibly make sure of. We need to make sure, the Board of Regents needs to make sure that we have more advance knowledge of what they plan to do with the coaches and the buyouts."

Maybe the sting of the Rich Rod buyout is why new football coach Kevin Sumlin would reportedly not get a huge payday if he's fired before his five-year, $14.5 million contract expires. And if Sumlin quits, he'd reportedly owe the U of A money.

We wanted to hear from new Athletic Director Dave Heeke thinks about Ridenhour's demand for changes, and what Heeke changes is considering. However, Heeke, who's making $500,000 this year, declined an interview through a spokesman, who said he couldn't discuss lawsuits and personnel issues.

Heeke replaced Greg Byrne, who became athletic director at Alabama. Some observers have wondered if Byrne left here in part because he knew about the brewing scandals. News 4 Tucson's Ari Alexander recently asked Byrne about that. 

Byrne said, "When you have 500 student-athletes, you have 20 -plus programs, 350 employees, you're going to have issues. It's gonna happen and what the important thing is is that you make the best decision you can with the information that you have when those things come along." Alexander asked Byrne, "As far as while you were here, did you have any knowledge of anything going on for yourself or for Sean (basketball coach Sean Miller)?" Byrne said, "Of course not, no." 

Meanwhile, as we reported months ago, the U of A is spending millions of dollars for outside law firms to investigate the sexual harassment allegations made by Rodriguez' former assistant, which he denies, along with the FBI charges that former assistant basketball coach Book Richardson took $20,000 in bribes. We asked Ridenhour, "We asked what do you say to Arizona taxpayers about their money, millions of dollars being used, because of these scandals?" He said, "No public funds are being used in these payouts. By that, I mean no appropriations from the legislature, no tuition monies.So we're really relying on athletic department receipts and/or private donations from donors." We said to him, "But still, it's not what they donated for." Ridenhour replied, "Right."

When we asked Ridenhour, "What message do you have for all the people who love the U of A, alums, students, boosters, etc. about what the heck's going on down there?" He said, "The message I would give to the students and the alumni, and the parents, is that we're taking a fresh look at everything and the U of A is going to emerge from this better and stronger. 

University President Robert Robbins, who makes $988,000, also declined an interview. Ridenhour praised Robbins and Heeke. They both walked into this crisis, and Ridenhour says he believes they are capable of solving it.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.  

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