Pac-12 exonerates coordinator of officiating, Ed Rush, for “bounty” offered at conference tournament

Early in the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas March 13-16, the league’s coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, Ed Rush, had a pointed meeting with half a dozen of the conference’s referees, during which he made something perfectly clear:

Rush thought his officials had been allowing some coaches too much leeway on the sidelines, chief among them Arizona’s Sean Miller.

And then, sources say, Rush drove home the point: He offered the officials a “bounty” for calling a technical foul on Miller, variously described as $5,000 or an all-expenses-paid trip.

The Pac-12 recently investigated the incident. While it substantiated the facts of the meeting, it concluded Rush made the remarks in jest, while making it clear it thought they were inappropriate.

Monday, after and The Seattle Times reported the incident, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told The Times that while Rush perceived Miller to have been recently “over the line” with sideline behavior, Rush also intended the message to include overwrought decorum in general. In any case, Scott was critical of Rush’s challenge to the officials.

Scott told The Times, “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. 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.”

Complicating the scenario was this: Late in the UCLA-Arizona semifinal game March 15, Miller was slapped with a technical foul by official Michael Irving.

The technical foul was itself a matter of controversy. It was Miller’s first since Feb. 25, 2012, and the issue didn’t die there. In a widely publicized postgame rant on the interview podium, Miller cited what he claimed to have said to incur the technical, which came after an Arizona player was called for traveling despite a UCLA defender having jabbed the ball from his possession.

“He touched the ball,” Miller said, repeating what he had said. Then he repeated the same phrase four more times for emphasis.

In officiating circles, the technical foul was considered debatable. There was sentiment that Miller was whistled for being out of the coaching box, and that he’d purportedly already been warned about it. And, sources say, there was also belief expressed that such a borderline indiscretion shouldn’t have warranted a technical foul in a heated, two-point game inside the final five minutes (UCLA won, 66-64).

Two days later, Miller was reprimanded and fined $25,000 by Scott for confronting a game official on the floor and acting inappropriately toward a conference staff member in a hallway.

Asked Monday if relations between Rush and Arizona can be reconciled, Scott said, “Based on the review I had ordered on this issue, it was clear that the point Ed Rush was trying to make was about coaches’ behavior and decorum generally.”

Scott pointed out that UCLA coach Ben Howland drew a rare technical foul — Howland said it was his first in 10 years — in the Pac-12 final against Oregon. But in that case, Howland flung his sports jacket into the stands in disgust.

Arizona released a statement Monday from athletic director Greg Byrne saying the school learned of the Rush comments March 17, notified Scott “and any further issue is a matter for the Pac-12 office.”

The incident underscores growing pains in the officiating program under Rush, hired last spring to revamp the Pac-12 program. Some officials say Rush, a longtime NBA official and an ex-supervisor in the pros, doesn’t listen to coaches’ input — their opinions are widely regarded as worthwhile in evaluation of officials — and others say he has an abrasive style.

Veteran Dick Cartmell of the Tri-Cities, a five-time Final Four official, recently submitted his resignation from the Pac-12. Monday, he cited to The Seattle Times “personal differences with the direction of the officiating program.”