I was a sports fan long before I was ever an Arizona Wildcats fan.
The news that the head of officials for the Pac-12 may have placed a bounty of sorts on Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller disgusts me. It repulses me. It angers me.
And that’s the sports fan talking — not the Arizona alum.
No one will ever know if the technical foul referee Michael Irving gave Miller with 4:37 left and the Cats up two over UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament was in any way influenced by Ed Rush’s conversation with the officials. Hell, no one will ever know if the Wildcats, had the technical not been assessed, would have gone on to win the game and have different fates in both the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments. Truth is, it does not really matter.
What we do know, however, is that from here on out, every tough whistle that goes against Arizona will be questioned. Every replay that shows the ref missing a call against Arizona will have someone going, “hmm, was that intentional?”
Apparently, that’s not much of a concern to Commissioner Larry Scott.
“Step one, for me, was I immediately had to decide if there was a fireable offense here,” the commish told SVP & Russillo of ESPN Radio Tuesday.
“In my determination, no.”
In my determination, that is absolutely the wrong answer.
Scott said Rush’s goal was to make a point to the referees, that he was upset about how much leeway the officials were giving the guys roaming the sideline. The directive was not geared toward Miller as much as it was Rush’s way of making a point that his crew needed to be more vigilant with regards to coach decorum.
The “offer” of money or a vacation was for emphasis and not an actual offer, according to the Scott.
However, intention matters not here, and neither does the fact that Rush may have made the comments in jest.
He said what he said, and there is a possibility a call was made because of it.
“There was nothing unethical or any breach of integrity about the way the games were called,” Scott said, noting that UCLA’s Ben Howland received a technical foul of his own the following day.
The one good thing that came out of Scott’s interview was that he left the door open to ultimately part with Rush. While saying the “joke” was not a fireable offense, he admitted it is still yet to be determined if Rush will no longer be able to continue in his role given the perception people have of him now.
“That is a determination that still has to be made,” Scott said, adding the integrity of his officials and his league is incredibly important. “Whether the program can reach the levels we want it to reach going forward, and have the trust and confidence, which is essential to an officiating program, is something we’ll determine in the normal course, which happens in a couple months after the season is over.”
The season may not be over, but you better believe Rush’s employment with the Pac-12 will be shortly. The commissioner is already laying the groundwork, albeit very slowly.
At least, one has to hope he is.
At this point, it’s difficult to see anyone — Arizona fan or not — viewing a bad call without wondering if something shady is behind it.
The Pac-12’s basketball referees already have a well-deserved reputation for being among the worst in the country, only now people will question their motives. When a ref botches a call due to human error or incompetence, that’s just part of the game. But when an official messes up because of other reasons, possibly of the nefarious type?
Well, that simply cannot happen if a sport is to remain legitimate. And fair or not, the idea that it could have happened is enough to force the commissioner’s hand.
He just has to realize it.