The Pac-12 has had its share of officiating gaffes over the years, usually involving straight incompetence in administering all manners of rules -- famously including instant replay and, well, you know.
But today's news is uncharted territory, even in the annals of Pac-12 officiating awfulness: Ed Rush, the conference's coordinator of basketball officials, offered a reward -- or bounty, if you will -- to officials for either ejecting Arizona coach Sean Miller or giving him a technical foul in the Pac-12 tournament.
Jeff Goodman at CBSSports.com has the salacious details:
Rush, according to a source within the Pac-12 officiating group, told a group of referees on the Thursday of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas that he would give them $5,000 or a trip to Cancun if they either "rang him up" or "ran him," meaning hit Miller with a technical or toss him out of the game. Rush then reiterated during a Friday morning meeting, according to one referee in attendance, that officials should take similar action against Miller if he did anything on Friday in the Pac-12 semifinals against UCLA.
"He was emphatic about not dealing with him (Miller)," the ref told CBSSports.com. "He made that perfectly clear."
If you recall, Miller was given a technical late in Arizona's loss to UCLA. It probably was a total coincidence, since Rush told Larry Scott that it was a "joke."
I'm actually not all that shocked that a conversation of this nature took place. My dad was a high school basketball official for a number of years, and as I often tagged along to games, I was privy to some eye-opening conversations that officials had about how they were going to handle this coach or that coach.
I'm not even shocked that a former NBA official would be stupid enough to say something that, if it came to the light of day, would call into question the integrity of a game. Humility is not considered a key character trait for those guys.
What I'm shocked by is simply this: Rush still has a job.
Perhaps I shouldn't be shocked. The Pac-10/12, first under Tom Hansen and now under Larry Scott, always stands by its officials. No matter what:
"Based on the review, we have concluded that while Rush made inappropriate comments that he now regrets during internal meetings that referenced rewards, he made the comments in jest and the officials in the room realized they were not serious offers," Scott told CBSSports.com. "Following our review, we have discussed the matter with Rush, taken steps to ensure it does not happen again, and communicated our findings to all of our officials."
He was just joking! Nobody thought he was serious! Let's assume that Rush really was joking - that he had no intention of paying off what he said. People don't make jokes for no reason. And when a supervisor who holds your professional future in his hands makes a "joke" with a clear missive behind it, it's understood that if you want to keep advancing -- remember, referees are contracted employees of the conference who can be terminated at any time -- you heed the directive. Which one official obviously did.
But how would Scott know if Rush was really joking? Because he asked the officials in the room? The same ones who probably would see their assignments diminish if they "rat" on their boss? Scott's got a pool of officials telling him, "Oh yeah, he was clearly joking," while one official is telling Goodman:
"He's a bully," the referee said of Rush. "He just bullies everyone. That was his whole tenor of the meeting on Friday. We're all afraid of him. He's the most respected basketball officiating person on the west coast and he's been given all the juice."
And then there's this, from Bud Withers:
Veteran Dick Cartmell of the Tri-Cities, a five-time Final Four official, recently submitted his resignation from the Pac-12. Monday, he cited to The Seattle Times "personal differences with the direction of the officiating program."
Yeah, Larry -- you've got a problem.
Now every fan wonders if every call is on the up and up. Like when Ken Bone gets a technical foul for yelling "rebound!" at his team. Obviously the official just misheard him ... or did he?
And that's the thing that I can't believe Scott is missing here. It doesn't matter if Rush was joking. Any implication that the game isn't fair does serious damage to the credibility of the conference, and you better believe that every time something questionable happens, this will come up.
The Pac-12 has done a lot of work to distance itself from its reputation as a Mickey Mouse league under Hansen. This doesn't help. The continued issues with officiating in this conference remain the biggest black mark on Scott's resume. Some might say that's the inability to get Pac-12 Networks on DirecTV. But that's at least defensible. This ... this just isn't. There's no reason Rush should still be employed.
Except, as the interminable standoff with DirecTV has shown, Scott can be prideful and stubborn in his own right. Here's to hoping he's as smart as we all think and doesn't just dig in his heels in an act of defiance when every take on this story I've seen is the same.
Rush must be fired.