Report: Tension existed between UA, Pac-12 before tournament controversy

Apr 22, 2013, 3:25 AM | Updated: 4:42 pm

It’s the story that just won’t die in college basketball.

Nearly three weeks after the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, UA and the Pac-12 are back in the news. In a USA Today article, writer George Schroeder made light of the fact that the newspaper had obtained documents (via a public records request) which revealed a tenuous relationship between the school and its conference well before the tournament scandal that ultimately forced Director of Officiating Ed Rush to resign.

The documents show problems between the parties dated back to March 6, when Wildcats head coach Sean Miller sent a request through the program’s basketball of operations for Rush to review 21 sequences from the team’s March 2 loss to UCLA.

Miller didn’t exactly get the response he was hoping for.

Rush questioned the number of issues raised by Miller and wrote that only two were missed calls. He dismissed most of the others with brief notes, including: “???? Do not see YOUR point.”

UA dropped the issue at the time, but following Miller’s public reprimand and $25,000 fine for conduct at the conclusion of the Wildcats’ Pac-12 Tournament semifinal loss to UCLA on March 15, athletic director Greg Byrne brought it back up.

On March 17, Byrne sent an email to Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott to review Rush’s prior interaction with Miller, sighting that the incident could have played a role in the semifinal officiating that led to the coach’s eventual outburst.

“Ed’s tone was condescending and one could assume that he was bothered by the request,” Byrne wrote, noting it was “only the second time that we had brought an officiating call issue to Ed … and isn’t it part of Ed’s job to be the middle man between the officials and our coaches/programs? If this is the response Sean/we get when we bring an issue forward to Ed it does not give us a lot of confidence that we will be constructively listened to in the future.”

In his reply, Scott wrote: “I do not believe Ed was trying to be condescending with Ryan, and I will address his style with him to work on improvement in this area. He tells me he reached out to Coach Miller personally via telephone after the referenced e-mail exchange, and did not get a return phone call.”

According to the documents, Miller, who was warned of future enhanced penalties following an incident on January 11, was told prior to the public reprimand that the conference would waive the $25,000 fine if he would do three things: 1. Write an apology to the unnamed staff member he verbally attacked 2. Meet with Scott and Rush by the end of April and 3. Commit to working with the athletic program on a plan of conduct for future situations with officials.

Miller didn’t agree to the plan and the fine was subsequently handed down. He did, however, change course in some regard.

On March 29, Miller wrote letters to Scott and to the unnamed Pac-12 staff member. He apologized to the Pac-12 staff member, saying his outburst was directed “toward a Pac-12 banner hanging in the tunnel area near our locker room.” Miller wrote that he didn’t notice the representative, but added: “I understand that you were shaken by this incident, for that that I am truly sorry. Please know that my actions were not directed towards you in any way.”

Miller’s letter to Scott, which accompanied a $25,000 check for payment of the fine, did not include an apology. Noting Scott’s earlier proposal to Byrne of a meeting between Scott, Rush and Miller, the coach closed his letter with:

“After learning more details from numerous sources about ‘The Meeting’ between Ed Rush and several Pac-12 officials in Las Vegas prior to our semi-final tournament game with UCLA, I do not believe this meeting is in my best interest moving forward.”

‘The Meeting’ Miller referenced would be clarified three days later.

In a article on April 1, Jeff Goodman wrote Rush had reportedly told a group of referees the Thursday before the Pac-12 Tournament that he’d give them $5,000 dollars or a trip to Cancun for ringing Miller up. When UA advanced to play UCLA Friday night, Rush again reiterated the offer to an official at a morning meeting.

Scott backed Rush shortly after the article came out, noting that an independent investigation found the comments to be made in jest. Despite the vote of confidence, Rush resigned from his post on April 4.

While the Pac-12 has a lot of work to do to restore a sense of credibility with its 12 member institutions, the latest findings suggest they’ll also need to mend a fence with one in particular.

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