It started as just another April Fool’s Day filled with harmless, stale jokes. Then, the Pac-12 Conference revealed one Monday that should never be a laughing matter.
In a statement to CBSSports.com, league commissioner Larry Scott said Pac-12 coordinator of officials Ed Rush was investigated for his comments regarding head coach Sean Miller, the day of and before Arizona’s conference tournament semifinal loss to UCLA on March 15.
A source said Rush told a group of officials that a technical on Miller or ejection would yield a $5,000 reward or trip to Cancun. On the day of the game, Rush then reiterated his statement.
In a time when the words “referee scandal” and “conspiracy” are becoming more and more synonymous with officiating in basketball, the league did itself no favors by sticking beside Rush, a one-time NBA director of officiating from 1998 to 2003.
“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 said. “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.”
With 4:37 to play, official Michael Irving hit Miller with a technical foul after point guard Mark Lyons was whistled for double dribble. Miller, who was outside of the coaching box, said he pleaded with officials that UCLA guard Jordan Adams “touched the ball” - and then repeated those infamous words over and over again in his postgame media session.
The Bruins won the game, 66-64, and Miller constantly reminded the media that he “gave them those two points, they didn’t earn those two points.”
“If I cuss and I’m out of control and I’ve been warned, shame on me,” Miller said. “But when I say, ‘He touched the ball, he touched the ball!’ Because quite frankly, I thought two of them could have maybe gotten together and explained that, in fact, he did touch the ball. That’s what I was hoping for. That technical right there is hard to swallow.”
After the game, Twitter exploded with angry Wildcats fans who researched Irving’s history as a Los Angeles law enforcement official and cried wolf about a potential bias toward UCLA.
Two days later, Miller was fined $25,000 and reprimanded by the Pac-12 for confronting an official after the contest and then acting inappropriately toward a league staff member in a hallway at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
As it turns out, Miller may have a case for his rant and actions after all. Yet, Scott stood by Rush, who, according to the source, is a “bully” and put Irving and the officials in a “horrible position.”
“If you don’t do anything, you probably won’t get any good games down the road - or you may not get any games at all. That leaves us in a tough spot,” the source said.
In a statement released Monday, Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said: “On Sunday, March 17, we first learned of the allegation of the events that occurred during the Conference Tournament. Due to the serious implications, we immediately shared our concerns with Commissioner Scott and the Conference office. We know that an investigation was held and any further issue is a matter for the Pac-12 office.”
It also now becomes a matter for the viewing public. Would Arizona have advanced to the championship game without the technical foul? That’s debatable, and unfortunately we will never know.
Too often and unfairly, fans will point to officiating at the first sign of trouble when their team is losing. Time and time again, coaches continue to point out that one call does not decide a game, while fans continue to believe a certain official has a vendetta against one particular team.
Events like this certainly do not help. Neither does a recent resignation.
According to the Seattle Times, veteran Dick Cartmell quit his job with the Pac-12 and cited “personal differences with the direction of the officiating program.”
What will happen the next time a Pac-12 official makes a call against Arizona at McKale Center? Just imagine the words that will come from the crowd.
Most of the time, such bellyaching would be met with a groan and roll of the eyes from yours truly. Nobody likes a homer.
Now, I don’t know. But the Pac-12 seems to be just as clueless, and that’s a bigger problem. The joke is on everyone, and that’s pretty sad.
(Editor’s Note: Tracy McDannald is the senior editor for GOAZCATS. Get all your Wildcats’ news at www.goazcats.com.)