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Pac-12 should fire officiating chief Ed Rush after comments about Sean Miller

Sean Miller

Sean Miller reacts as Michael Irving signals for a technical foul. Photo by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Pac-12 should fire Ed Rush, the league’s coordinator of basketball officials.

In a stunning story, Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com reported Monday that Rush — in jest or not — told a group of referees at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas that he was offering $5,000 or a trip to Cancun if someone gave Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller a technical foul or throw him out the game.

Goodman reported that official Michael Irving was in the room; it was Irving who delivered the controversial technical foul against Miller late in a semifinal game against UCLA.

This isn’t to say that Rush’s comments were to be taken literally, or that Irving interpreted them that way, but it’s easy to see how the integrity of Pac-12 officiating has been compromised.

Rush, in his position, has to be beyond reproach and wholly accountable. To even suggest a targeting of a particular coach indicates, at the least, there is a lack of professionalism in a job that demands professionalism perfection. No perception of bias should be tolerated.

After this, how is Miller — how is any coach in the league? — supposed to trust a call?

It is Rush’s job to maintain the integrity of the process of officiating … and he has blown it.

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne released a statement Monday:

“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.”

So far, conference commissioner Larry Scott – a smart and careful caretaker of the league’s image — has under-reacted.

“I can confirm that following the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament, we received a complaint that Pac-12 Coordinator of Officials Ed Rush offered game officials inappropriate incentives for being stricter with Pac-12 coaches,” he said in a statement.

“I consider the integrity of our officiating program to be of the highest importance and immediately ordered a review of the matter. 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. 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.”

That’s not enough.

Imagine how toxic the atmosphere must be within the Pac-12 officiating crew that someone felt compelled to step forward, albeit anonymously, to talk to Goodman. The source, who called Rush “a bully,” said the technical was out of character for Irving.

“He’s a really good ref and manages situations without using technicals. It was absolutely because of what was said in the meeting. There’s no doubt in my mind. It’s a bad position to be put in,” the source told Goodman.

“As a basketball referee, it’s a horrible position to be put in by your supervisor. 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 Seattle Times reported that veteran official Dick Cartmell, who has worked five Final Fours, recently submitted his resignation from the Pac-12. He told the Times he had “personal differences with the direction of the officiating program.”

After the UCLA incident, the Pac-12 fined Miller $25,000 for his postgame conduct, citing words he had with an official on the court immediately after the loss and for acting inappropriately toward a conference staff member in the hallway of the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Miller truly may have earned his fine.

Miller wasn’t fined for his postgame “He touched the ball” press conference as he explained what he said to the officials after a traveling call on Mark Lyons. Miller contended a UCLA player touched the ball while Lyons lost control before regaining possession. If UCLA touched the ball, there would be no traveling.

Miller said he didn’t swear and didn’t get an on-court explanation for the technical.

“If I cuss and I’m out of control and I’ve been warned, shame on me,” Miller said after the game. “But when I say, ‘He touched the ball, he touched the ball’ … because quite frankly I thought the two of them could have maybe gotten together and explained that, in fact, he did touch the ball.”

It was a questionable technical foul, made exponentially more questionable by Rush’s comments about Miller in two meetings before the UCLA game.

Rush, a longtime NBA official who also served as chief of officials in that league, was elevated into his current job within the Pac-12 in May 2012. Now, he has squandered the trust that comes with the position.

He has created a perception of bias, and the Pac-12 should do the right thing.

Scott should toss Rush out of the job.

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