On the night of Jan. 3, the Pac-12 had its first full round of conference basketball games, and the one in Tucson was a sizzler. Colorado had a big lead on Arizona, the Wildcats came back to tie down the stretch, and then Sabatino Chen nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Buffs an apparent win.
But officials, reviewing courtside monitors to see whether Chen released the ball in time, waved off the basket. It’s not exaggerating to say that the call was so close, it would be hard to orchestrate a more hairline decision. Arizona won in overtime.
I bring it up to underscore that, as controversial as the call was, imagine what the repercussions would have been had Ed Rush still been coordinator of Pac-12 officials. A call favorable to Arizona would have elicited cries that officials were trying to bend over backwards not to show antipathy toward the Wildcats; a decision unfavorable to them would have brought howls from UA fans, certain that officials were out to get them. All they would have had to do was point to Rush’s challenge to officials at the 2013 tournament to assess coach Sean Miller a technical foul, and he’d provide a reward of $5,000 or an all-expenses-paid trip.
That was the ill-advised “bounty” challenge that brought Rush down Thursday. Monday, the Pac-12 acknowledged to CBSSports.com and the Seattle Times that it had investigated Rush for his wayward comments and found them to have been in jest.
This was hardly the finest hour for the Pac-12 or commissioner Larry Scott. When I talked with Scott Monday and asked him how Rush could ever reconcile with Arizona, he said Rush’s challenge to the officials wasn’t centered on Miller, but on coaches’ bench decorum in general.
Everything I heard, and apparently everything CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman heard, was that it was all about Miller (even if Rush did feel other coaches were out of line). To reinforce his point, Scott noted that UCLA’s Ben Howland got a rare technical foul the night after Miller got his, but that was apples and oranges. Howland threw his sports jacket into the stands, and that gets you a technical in any league, whether it’s the Pac-12 or CYO.
It was obvious that Rush had to go from the moment the Pac-12 discovered he had said it. Stuff like that isn’t a joking matter. And the fact Scott allowed it to fester for three days didn’t reflect well on him. Only the astonishing mess at Rutgers served to somewhat shield the Pac-12 office from the full brunt of national media scorn.
So with Rush removed, is normalcy restored? I think it’s fair to say there will still be a healing process necessary. Arizona fans now know that an authority figure in the league didn’t like the behavior of its coach, so a segment of them can and will believe that the Pac-12 has it in for them, no matter who steps into Rush’s role.
Then there’s this general issue: Officiating is inherently a delicate topic, and the fact the Pac-12 — which has had multiple dubious moments in recent years in both football and basketball — just had a serious breach of policy (and common sense) doesn’t do anything to inspire confidence.
Restoring that may take a lot longer than getting a loose cannon out of his office.