After the kerfuffle that forced out referees supervisor Ed Rush, the Pac-12 Conference is commissioning an independent review of its men’s basketball tournament officiating. Commissioner Larry Scott, who described as a joke Rush’s “bounty” comments regarding Arizona coach Sean Miller, apparently has stopped laughing.
“Nothing is more important to the Pac-12, or to me personally, than maintaining confidence in our integrity,” said Scott in a league release Tuesday. “Given the conflicting media reports, it is important that we do whatever we can to understand all the facts, not only to resolve the questions about officiating during the tournament, but also to learn lessons that will help us make changes and improvements to our overall program.”
In the Pac-12 tournament semifinals against UCLA in Las Vegas March 15, officials whistled Miller for a technical foul for arguing a late double-dribble call against Wildcats guard Mark Lyons. Arizona lost, 66-64.
Miller went off in the postgame interviews, repeating the phrase, “he (the defender) touched the ball” five times, which would have negated the violation. Later on, he was fined $25,000 for confronting an official on the floor and a conference staffer in the hallway.
Two days later, Scott learned from Arizona representatives that Rush told refs before the Arizona-UCLA game that he wanted tougher enforcement of the coaching conduct rules along the sidelines. Rush admitted he called out officials Michael Greenstein, Tony Padilla and Brett Nansel for ignoring behavior by Miller and Colorado coach Tad Boyle during the Wildcats 79-69 win over the Buffaloes in the quarterfinals.
Rush asked whether he had to offer a $5,000 bonus or a trip to Cancun to get officials to ring up Miller with technical fouls.
Scott investigated and determined that Rush’s words were in jest and not a finable offense. But Rush, 70, resigned his position Thursday via phone call to Scott, citing his likely inability to regain the trust of coaches and officials. In an interview with the Associated Press last week, he tried to explain his remarks.
“I said, ‘The game cried out for a bench warning. It would have been very simple to take care of that. It cried out for bench warnings,’” he said. “Another crew was waiting in there, getting ready for the next game. I would say there was a level of tension in the locker room, just because the disappointment that they worked this game, but they didn’t take care of something that was a point of emphasis.
“So in an effort just to lighten the mood, I said to them, ‘Hey, guys. What’s it going to take? Do you think we could give you a trip to Cancun or maybe $5,000? Or who wants what?’ And now they’re all laughing, which is basically what I wanted to do. So I said, ‘I know you guys, you probably want $5,000, you want the money, you won’t take the trip to Cancun. So I’m going around, ‘What would you take?’ At that point, I said, ‘By the way, you know my wife’s not going to go for this. I’m going to have to pull this off the table.’
“They all laughed, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, bud.’ That was it, and I walked out.”
But given the high level of criticism of Pac-12 officiating over the years, and the abrasive manner of Rush, a longtime NBA ref, Scott’s almost cavalier dismissal of the situation brought out more criticism.
The independent review will examine all of the officiating and coaching events during and following the tourney. Scott expects that the review will contribute to a broader examination of the officiating program. The report of the independent panelists who were not yet identified, will go directly to the executive committee of the conference’s CEO Group governing board by its June meeting.