Larry Scott: Ed Rush's joke 'not a fireable offense'

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN Radio's Scott Van Pelt interviewed the commissioner of the Pac-12 this morning, and while he defended his decision not to fire Ed Rush over his bounty "joke," he did leave the door open for that to change in the future.

The outrage over the revelation that Pac-12 coordinator of officials Ed Rush has started to die down in the 24 hours or so since the story broke, but the consensus seems to be that there's just no way Rush can continue in his capacity.

Rush still has a job, though, and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott joined ESPN Radio's Scott Van Pelt to explain his reasoning. As transcribed by Bryan Fischer of Pac-12.com:

"It was completely inappropriate to joke about a topic like this," Scott said. "If there’s any chance that it could be misunderstood, you just don’t go there. You don’t leave that open for interpretation because there’s so much scrutiny around this. You need to be impartial and fair and he used very, very poor judgment."

Later in the interview, Scott said, "At this point, we didn’t find anything that would be a fireable offense, a breach of ethics or integrity."

Believe it or not, I actually don't disagree with Scott, in this sense -- if you take Rush's comments in a vacuum, it's perfectly reasonable to think that he was using hyperbole to make a point, and in and of itself, that probably isn't egregious enough to cost someone their job.

Obvious problem is obvious, though: His (joking) offer to gift officials cash or a trip for giving Sean Miller a technical foul didn't take place in a vacuum ... it took place shortly before his officials gave Sean Miller a technical foul at a critical time in a close game.

Put together, Rush's credibility -- and therefore, the credibility of the officiating in the entire conference -- has been irreparably damaged. (And here you thought that wasn't possible before yesterday!) Heck, when someone as measured as Vince Grippi thinks you need to go, you know you've really blown it.

This isn't personal; I'm not saying Rush is a bad guy, or that he intended to follow through on what he said, or whatever. I don't know the first personal thing about him. There probably wasn't a cause and effect relationship between Rush's "offer" and the actual technical foul; as Scott said, "(The ref) didn’t think he’d won anything; He’s not in Cancun right now."

But as long as Rush is in charge, there will always be questions. There simply cannot be questions.

I actually think Scott is conflicted. On the one hand, he believes Rush has done exactly what he asked him to do -- shake up the officiating program and get the attention of officials who, in the past, seemed to be a little too comfortable in their mediocrity:

"We have a lot of room for improvement in my view," Scott said on ESPN Radio Tuesday. "Let me put this in broader context: Ed Rush is new to this role for us. We replaced our old coordinator with Ed Rush after looking at a lot of different candidates because there was a feeling that our officiating was not going in the right direction in basketball.

"His mandate was to come shake up this program. We need to make changes. There have been personnel changes that have been made, technology changes that have been made, and accountability changes that have been made. Some people appreciate it and others don’t."

[snip

"What we found was that Ed Rush, our coordinator of officials, was being very hard on the officials. He didn’t think the officials were doing the job of containing the coaches, that coach decorum was getting out of control – not solely focused on Coach Miller, but several coaches. As part of that banter this discussion was had about, ‘What do I have to do to get you guys to enforce the rules? To ‘T’ a coach up if he won’t listen to the warning? Do I got to give you a trip? Money?’

"Our investigator asked very, very pointed questions and it was clear that no one thought that there was a real bounty. Ed was trying to shock them into being more firm in order to make a point."

And even I'll admit: I found the officiating to be less objectionable this year. It was curious to me that they basically sanctioned all-out football under the basket this year when big men were involved, but it was consistent for the most part. There still were gaffes, but I found myself with less to complain about.

But for as much as Scott seems to personally appreciate Rush's edge -- Scott, while more polished in his presentation, is no stranger to the concept of "edgy" when it comes to getting what he wants -- I can't imagine a scenario where Scott's need to protect the brand of the Pac-12 doesn't eventually win out.

And like any good leader, Scott left open the option to change course:

"What we have to evaluate based on all the feedback that we’ve gotten going forward is the direction of the program, and we will do that in the coming weeks after the basketball season.

"Whether the program can reach the levels that we want it to reach going forward – and have the trust and confidence, which is essential to an officiating program – is something we will determine in the normal course of a couple of months after the season is over."

Translation: "Once I've had a lot of time to think about this and touch base with all the presidents, I'll make a final decision -- when I'm good and ready. And 'when I'm good and ready' probably will be at a time when it's destined to get the least amount of publicity."

There's no way the presidents can stand behind Scott on this one, not when every important, questionable call next year will invoke this incident in the minds of players, coaches and fans -- a point Van Pelt made sure to hammer home (transcription mine, as this wasn't included in Fischer's story):

SVP: I'm asking you to do something for me. ... I'm asking you to put on an Arizona shirt right now and ask yourself, if this guy's still in charge next year, how you trust any whistle that you get? How can you do that?

Scott: That is the determination that still has to be made. All I'm saying right now is, when I first heard about it, this was launched into an immediate investigation, because nothing is more important to me than the integrity and credibility of our program.

Here's to guessing Scott determines "the integrity and credibility of our program" has been damaged beyond repair, and Rush is let go sometime in June or July -- and probably around 5 p.m. on a Friday with a simple news release.

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