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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

June 3, 2013 at 12:02 AM

The Rush/basketball officiating affair: Not a proud moment for the Pac-12

The Pac-12 announced Sunday the findings of an independent, outside investigation into the strange sequence of events in March that led to the ouster of men’s coordinator of basketball officiating Ed Rush. It came after the league had regularly scheduled meetings over the weekend at Park City, Utah.

Larry Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner, is due to have a Monday-morning teleconference on the meetings, and he’ll need to provide some insight on the Rush findings. Although the summary of the report by Ice Miller, a collegiate legal counsel in Indianapolis, provides for a nice, neat exoneration of the league’s handling of the affair, there are several issues boiling underneath.

The report found that indeed, Rush did make comments to the effect that he would provide a cash or air-fare “bounty” for either a technical foul or ejection of coaches violating his bench-decorum standards – particularly Sean Miller of Arizona – but that the offer wasn’t taken literally by the multiple officials who heard it in meetings at the Pac-12 tournament in March.

Subsequent to those meetings, Miller was assessed a technical foul down the stretch of a taut semifinal game against UCLA, and the irony is that Rush, who had worked hard on his officials for stricter control of Miller, thought the technical was unwarranted.

The report quotes a colleague seated next to Rush as saying Rush exclaimed, “Oh, bleep, that’s not good,” in reference to the technical foul, because Miller’s conduct wasn’t overly demonstrative and the call that led to his protest was incorrect.

But what emerged from the report lends credence to the idea that Rush had to go – if not for his ill-considered comments, then for his divisive style. As the report notes, “During the independent-review process, a clear split emerged regarding how the Pac-12’s officials view (Rush) and his management approach. (Rush) acknowledges this split. Essentially, the Coordinator’s ‘boys’ or ‘D-leaguers’ (a reference to Pac-12 officials who also officiate in the NBA Developmental League) are officials thought by their colleagues, the officiating leadership team (of the Pac-12)  and the  Coordinator to have the greatest affinity and respect for the Coordinator, and the ‘old guard’ or ‘mafia’ are officials thought to consider the Coordinator to be an arrogant authoritarian who ‘manages by intimidation.’ ’’

  Perhaps that’s the reason the investigation got strikingly different responses from various officials as to Rush’s conduct in the meetings. And Scott ought to be concerned about that if it’s something that doesn’t go away along with Rush.

In a meeting after the Colorado-Arizona game in the tournament, for instance, a couple of officials subsequently interviewed for this investigation called Rush “professional and businesslike.” But the consensus of three other officials described Rush as “pretty aggressive, ranting and raving and out of control.”

If the officials on the floor were that consistent, the games would be a mess.

Meanwhile, Miller doesn’t come off well in the report. He invaded the personal space of the official who levied the technical foul, and dropped multiple F-bombs at him. The report portrays the official as being so stunned that the whistle dropped from his mouth.

Then Miller, who was fined $25,000 for the series of actions, continued the profanity in a hallway, and it’s a matter of debate whether it was in the vein of blowing off steam or  aimed at a Pac-12 junior staffer, who was nonetheless shaken up. The report quotes Miller as barking, “You’re a bleeping cheap-ass conference,” and “Cheating bleeping conference.”

Regardless of Rush’s departure, the report makes it clear that Miller was a figure of interest for the league because of previous behavior, and that’s something worth watching going forward.

Two other observations:

–    The report concedes that the technical foul very likely was the result of Rush’s hammering on the officials to enforce bench decorum — but not to benefit from a bounty. Arizona coaches, including the assistants, told investigators they were surprised at the sudden oversight of seemingly innocent acts, like rising to call out instructions or voice support for a player. So you wonder at the wisdom of Rush’s campaign: Would baseball instruct its umpires to call a different strike zone on the eve of the World Series?

–     Arizona had gotten wind of the “bounty” controversy by Selection Sunday, and a Pac-12 investigator had interviewed 15 people about the issue by mid-week – or just before the NCAA tournament began. Yet it wasn’t until 12 days later that the Pac-12 acknowledged it after media reports flushed out the bounty story. When it broke, Scott minimized the notion of a literal interpretation of Rush’s bounty offer, and while he was right in the narrow sense, his downplaying of the incident proved a mistake as the controversy ballooned nationwide and Rush resigned shortly after.

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