Fire Ed Rush. Yesterday.Posted by AMurawa on April 2nd, 2013
It may be the most important story to come out of the Pac-12 this season. More than any game that was played, more than any coach’s hiring or firing, more than the Shabazz Muhammad recruitment or eligibility saga. Because this story gets to the heart of athletics, of fairness, of a level playing field – a conference administrator, singling out a coach for rough treatment. The administrator in question is Ed Rush, former NBA referee and current Pac-12 head of officials, and the head coach in question is Arizona’s Sean Miller. Here’s the heart of the story, as reported by Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com:
Rush, according to a source within the Pac-12 officiating group, told a group of referees on the Thursday of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas that he would give them $5,000 or a trip to Cancun if they either “rang him up” or “ran him,” meaning hit Miller with a technical or toss him out of the game. Rush then reiterated during a Friday morning meeting, according to one referee in attendance, that officials should take similar action against Miller if he did anything on Friday in the Pac-12 semifinals against UCLA.
That alone is bad enough. The fact that Miller did, in fact, get rung up on the Friday of that tournament, and the fact that Miller getting rung up potentially cost his team a win makes this story even worse. But what comes next, the response from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, makes this whole thing despicable. Because Scott wrote the whole thing off as a laugh, trying to sweep it under the rug as an inside joke. Here’s Scott’s statement:
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.
Sorry Commish, but that response just doesn’t cut it. Here’s how we should have been finding out about this whole sordid story.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott announced the firing of conference head of officials Ed Rush, after an investigation determined that Rush had offered up a bounty to any referee who assessed a technical foul to Arizona head coach Sean Miller during the Pac-12 Tournament.
That. If this Rush story happened, that’s the only acceptable way for it to come out. Otherwise, the reputation of the officiating in this conference – already at an all-time low – dives even further. Let’s face it, Pac-12 officiating has become a joke. We joke about it here, every other blog that covers Pac-12 basketball jokes about it, and it has been a running joke among fans of the conference for as long as I can remember. And yet the only people that seriously talked about refs being on the take or choosing sides before games were the delusional conspiracy theorists. Now, between Rush’s misdeeds and Scott’s denial, the trustworthiness of the conference is very much at stake. In other words, Rush must go. Yesterday, or earlier.
Really, let’s take Scott’s explanation at his word and assume that, yes, Rush was joking around when he made his comments. And he was wearing a clown wig and a rubber nose while he said them. And nobody in the history of the universe could have potentially regarded him as being serious when he uttered them. Even in that situation, it is still a firable offense. This is a guy who is the head of officials joking about paying his subordinates to purposely find a way, correct or not, to make a call that could have an impact on the outcome of the game. That is about the worst thing a referee can do — accept a bribe. That’s the kind of thing that gets people thrown in jail. This is like a high school administrator joking around with his teachers about having sex with their students. It’s not funny, under any circumstances. And it’s even less funny when one of the teachers then does just that thing. The fact that Scott has not already fired Rush is disturbing and a serious misstep.
There’s no way for Scott to correct the fact that he knows about this incident and hasn’t yet fired Rush, but there is a way for the commissioner to earn some confidence back. The prescription begins with Scott holding a press conference tomorrow morning, relieving Rush of his duties and issuing a sincere apology for (1) the fact that the incident occurred, (2) the fact that Rush was not immediately fired, and (3) the fact that he then tried to explain it away as little more than a joke. Then, at the press conference announce the creation of a Pac-12 task force on officiating, with the goal to make officials beholden to conference standards and reviews. While there is no chance that overnight officials are going to go from being independent operators to actual employees of the conference, the conference should come up with a series of guidelines and key principles for refs that wish to officiate Pac-12 games and subject them to reviews. Officials that don’t regularly meet minimum grades based on the conferences reviews aren’t invited back to continue officiating. And, slowly but surely, over the course of the next few years, the Pac-12 can go from regularly having some of the worst high-major officiating in the land to some of the best. It is never going to be perfect, because basketball officiating is hard, but there is no reason it can’t be better than it is. And maybe, just maybe, if Scott can take his serious misstep in the handling of this Rush case and turn it into something good, then we can think about forgiving him.