Ex-Creighton Bluejays men's basketball assistant Preston Murphy gets show-cause penalty; program put on two years' probation

Former Creighton assistant coach Preston Murphy was hit with a two-year show-cause penalty for accepting improper payments, a Level I-aggravated violation, uncovered during the FBI investigation that rocked college basketball, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions announced Tuesday.

During the bribery investigation that led to the arrests of four Division I assistant coaches, a federal indictment in March 2019 accused Murphy of accepting a $6,000 payment from an undercover FBI agent in a meeting with Christian Dawkins, his friend and one of the people at the center of the FBI's probe. During that July 2017 meeting in a Las Vegas hotel room, Murphy allegedly agreed to steer players to Dawkins' management company. Murphy resigned in November 2019.

Murphy's lawyers had argued that he returned the money after the meeting.

Per the committee, Murphy lied when he was asked in his school's internal questionnaire whether he had accepted any payments from an agent or financial adviser or accepted "anything of value" to steer players to an adviser or agent. Murphy checked "no" twice. But he later informed head coach Greg McDermott about the meeting and McDermott then told athletic director Bruce Rasmussen. Per the committee, Rasmussen investigated the incident without informing his compliance department. After Murphy told Rasmussen he had returned the money following the meeting, Rasmussen decided against acting on the information until the arrival of the federal indictment that named the former assistant coach two years ago.

"The violations largely stem from individuals permitting personal relationships to cloud their judgment and influence their decision-making," the committee said. "Specifically, the assistant coach prioritized loyalty to his friend, the agent associate; and the athletics director looked past alarming conduct based on his trust in the assistant coach."

While the two-year show-cause for Murphy represents the most severe penalty, the school was also hit with a variety of other penalties, including a 1% reduction in the men's basketball budget and two years of probation. Some of the penalties, such as the loss of one scholarship for the next two years, were self-imposed by the school.

"I passed a lie detector test and provided the NCAA with proof about what really happened: I did not know about Christian's scheme, the money was never mine, I did not keep any of the money, no one asked me to do anything, I never agreed to do anything and I never even tried to arrange any sort of meeting or do anything wrong whatsoever," Murphy said in a statement Tuesday. "The truth is that I thought I was doing a favor for someone I thought was a friend by saying something that was true -- that I have known Christian since he was a child -- and to be handed money that belonged to Christian that I handed to him after the meeting. As the decision says, there is no evidence that I kept the money and I did not take any action. If I had known what was really going on, I never would have gone to the meeting."

Rasmussen incurred a Level II-mitigated penalty for his handling of the investigation.

"It is noteworthy that within the public infractions report, the Committee stated, 'that in the 100-year history of Creighton's participation in Division I athletics, this is Creighton's first Level I, Level II or major infractions case. As it relates to institutions, the absence of an infractions history is rare. As such, the panel affords significant weight to this (mitigating) factor.' There is no postseason penalty imposed on the men's basketball program, and none of our current or future student-athletes will be impacted," Creighton said in a statement.

"We have used this as an opportunity for self-reflection, assessment, and improvement. As such, the Department of Athletics has enacted a series of reforms to policies and procedures, including an even more robust education and monitoring program, to ensure that our programs continue to adhere to the NCAA's high ethical standards. Indeed, these actions, and the University's willingness to cooperate on this matter, have been applauded by the NCAA enforcement staff. We are eager to move forward."

David Vaughn, Murphy's attorney, said via email that his client passed a polygraph test that proved he did not keep the money he received at the meeting and did not have a relationship with the individuals in the room after the meeting. But the committee said Murphy had already violated NCAA rules when he walked into the hotel room that day.

"For the panel, we focused on the conduct, and for the panel, the conduct was going into that meeting, knowing what he knew about the meeting, knowing who was going to be at the meeting and then accepting the payment for $6,000 and putting it in his pocket," Sankar Suryanarayan, university counsel at Princeton and a committee on infractions member, said during a Tuesday conference call. "For us, that was the action that triggered the violation."

Suryanarayan also said Rasmussen failed to "conduct a reasonable investigation" after he learned of Murphy's Las Vegas meeting. But the committee, he said, considered Creighton's athletic director's track record when it issued a Level II-mitigated penalty against him.

"We talked about the serious nature of that and also, it needs to be taken into context," he said. "What we arrived at was, based on what he did -- and we also looked at his reputation and experience, involving him and Creighton, the lack of really any infractions history -- we found that what the athletic director did was unreasonable."

Creighton is just the latest school to be served with penalties from the NCAA stemming from allegations first laid out in a federal criminal case that resulted in the convictions of 10 men, including four former assistant basketball coaches.

Murphy wasn't among the coaches facing federal charges, but his relationship with defendant Dawkins, an aspiring sports agent, played a role in the April 2019 trial involving Dawkins and former Adidas consultant Merl Code. Prosecutors played video of Murphy accepting the $6,000 payment from an undercover FBI agent in a Las Vegas hotel room in the July 2017 meeting in which Dawkins invited him.

Government witness and former financial adviser Marty Blazer -- who participated in the FBI investigation -- testified that Murphy was one of the coaches Dawkins was going to pay to gain influence with top players. During the meeting, Murphy talked about how he could deliver a top NBA prospect by the name of Marcus Phillips, who was not a real player.

When Murphy resigned two years ago "to pursue other opportunities in basketball," McDermott released a statement that called him "an excellent coach" and "invaluable member of my staff."

Tuesday's decision extends a controversial year for Creighton men's basketball.

McDermott was suspended by the school in March after telling players to "stay on the plantation" after a loss. He was reinstated in time to coach in the Big East tournament.