Fischer: Separating facts from perception in the Ed Rush controversy
Pac-12 officiating had issues well before CBSSports.com reported on comments made by Coordinator of Officials Ed Rush prior to the 2013 Men’s Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas.
That’s one of the reasons why Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott brought Rush into the league in the first place.
“We have a lot of room for improvement in my view," Scott said on ESPN Radio Tuesday. "Let me put this in broader context: Ed Rush is new to this role for us. We replaced our old coordinator with Ed Rush after looking at a lot of different candidates because there was a feeling that our officiating was not going in the right direction in basketball.
“His mandate was to come shake up this program," Scott continued. "We need to make changes. There have been personnel changes that have been made, technology changes that have been made, and accountability changes that have been made. Some people appreciate it and others don’t.”
Any time someone comes in to shake up a program, there will be people who resist. I’m guessing that’s why an unnamed source discussed Rush's meeting with officials in Las Vegas with CBSSports.com. (Full disclosure, I used to work at CBSSports.com with Jeff Goodman and consider him a very good reporter.)
A review of the matter commissioned by Scott included sources, too: officials who were in the room with Rush when the comments were made. Officials are offered confidentiality in return for honesty in such situations.
When separating facts from perception in this story, it's worth considering these sources carefully.
From the CBSSports.com report: “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 [Arizona coach Sean] 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.”
Scott gave a series of interviews on Tuesday and acknowledged that Rush made "completely inappropriate" comments, citing confidential interviews with officials who were present. But the commissioner believes they were made in a joking manner and not as serious as the CBSSports.com report made them out to be.
“What we found was that Ed Rush, our coordinator of officials, was being very hard on the officials," Scott told ESPN Radio. "He didn’t think the officials were doing the job of containing the coaches, that coach decorum was getting out of control - not solely focused on Coach Miller, but several coaches. As part of that banter this discussion was had about, ‘What do I have to do to get you guys to enforce the rules? To 'T' a coach up if he won't listen to the warning? Do I got to give you a trip? Money?'
“Our investigator asked very, very pointed questions and it was clear that no one thought that there was a real bounty. Ed was trying to shock them into being more firm in order to make a point."
Scott acknowledges that the joke was wrongheaded, and has addressed this with Rush who "now regrets" the comments.
“It was completely inappropriate to joke about a topic like this," Scott told ESPN Radio. "If there’s any chance that it could be misunderstood, you just don’t go there. You don’t leave that open for interpretation because there’s so much scrutiny around this. You need to be impartial and fair and he used very, very poor judgment.”
On this we can all agree: Rush's joke was no laughing matter. It opened up Pandora’s Box with respect to the Pac-12 officiating program – one already under the spotlight.
But what else? Perspectives on the event vary - and some Arizona fans remain unconvinced by Scott's view that Rush's comments were just a bad joke based on their tweets.
Opinions don't line up with the facts in this matter.
Was Miller targeted by officials in Vegas? He wasn't the only coach who got a technical during the tournament; all the coaches were given warnings. UCLA's Ben Howland also got a technical foul in Saturday's final.
Does "He touched the ball!" merit a 'T'? Miller got the technical for leaving the coaching box. He and other coaches were warned about this, which Howland confirmed following the controversial game.
Since when is a technical foul worth $25k? Miller was fined by the Conference not for the technical foul, but because he had a verbal altercation with an official after the game, and then acted inappropriately toward a staff member in the hallway of the arena.
Back to Rush’s comments. The Conference's review found that none of the officials thought there was a bounty on Miller or anybody else. Conference officials spoke with Michael Irving, who issued the technical foul on Milller in Las Vegas. "He didn't think he'd won anything," Scott said on Tuesday. "He's not in Cancun right now."
Scott left the door open for further review of the officiating program in the offseason - the Las Vegas meeting, specifically - if there are facts still missing from his view.
“If there’s something we got wrong, I want to know it," Scott said. "It’s a little disappointing that the Goodman source is an unnamed source that heard from an official. We actually talked with every official. I think we have a little better information about what was said and what wasn’t said. If that’s not correct, if we are misunderstanding what actually happened, I absolutely want to know.
"At this point, we didn’t find anything that would be a fireable offense, a breach of ethics or integrity," Scott told the Pac-12 Networks. "What we have to evaluate based on all the feedback that we’ve gotten going forward is the direction of the program, and we will do that in the coming weeks after the basketball season.”
“Whether the program can reach the levels that we want it to reach going forward – and have the trust and confidence, which is essential to an officiating program – is something we will determine in the normal course of a couple of months after the season is over," Scott told ESPN Radio.
Hopefully it will be a key catalyst in the continuing improvement of Pac-12 officiating.