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Commish Fiddles While The Integrity of Pac-12 Basketball Burns

April 2, 2013

In the two days after the 2013 Final Four was been set, the hottest sports story making rounds wasn’t Wichita State or Louisville’s Kevin Ware and his Joe Theismann-esque leg injury (No, I won’t link a photo) or UCLA’s hiring of Mambo No. 5 Steve Alford.  It wasn’t Baseball’s Opening Days (Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz …), wasn’t the video of Rutgers’ rageaholic Head Coach Tim Rice going apoplectic in practice, certainly wasn’t NFL backup QBs being traded, and it wasn’t John Enfield moving “Dunk City” from Fort Myers to Los Angeles.

Rather, it was CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman’s startling report that Pac-12 Conference coordinator of basketball officials Ed Rush allegedly offered incentives (“$5,000 or a trip to Cancun”) for calling a technical foul or ejection on Arizona Basketball Coach Sean Miller, in two separate meetings with game officials before Arizona games during the Pac-12 Conference Tournament in Las Vegas.  Miller in fact was assessed a technical foul with 4:37 left in Arizona’s 66-64 loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 semifinals, by an official who was present at those meetings and had worked all three Arizona-UCLA games this season. Miller’s first technical of the year, by the way.

Twitter exploded on the topic as one would expect. Dallas Mavericks Owner and noted NBA officiating antagonist Mark Cuban isn’t surprised.  This coming from the man who said that Rush is not interested in the integrity of the game and that he “wouldn’t hire him to manage a Dairy Queen.”  Outcast former NBA Referee and current gambling tout  Tim Donaghy chimed in, suggesting there’s more where that come from regarding Ed Rush, and went on ESPN SportsRadio to expound upon Rush’s days as both an NBA referee and the head of NBA officials (1998-2003).  ESPN and Grantland.com impresario Bill Simmons asserted that some of the “most dubiously reffed NBA playoff games ever” occurred under Rush’s watch. Shortly after, sportswriters such as Andy Glockner of SI.com to Gary Parrish at CBSSports.com to Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo!’s “The Dagger” Sports Blog to the wacky funsters at Deadspin and even beyond conventional sports media to Patrick Rishe of Forbes Magazine, all weighed in on the matter.  Goodman made the sports radio rounds this morning, from Dan Patrick to Mike & Mike to Scott Van Pelt.   A Facebook page titled “Remove Ed Rush Immediately” sprang up and gained over 1,500 likes in less than 24 hours (I know it’s not 1,000,000 likes so Dad will buy me a puppy!, but still).  Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott also started a misguided charm offensive, largely on ESPN between Van Pelt’s radio show and Andy Katz’s report, but also stopping by CBSSportsRadio’s “Mojo” show, backing his man Rush and dismissing the idea of impropriety out of hand all the while paying empty lipservice to the notions of transparency, ethics and fairness.

The fact this story was released on April 1st, cause some people to think it was an elaborate April Fools’ joke, but unfortunately for Scott, no such luck.  His official response to the story also looked like an April Fools’ lark, yet also exhibited a stunning lack of not only humor but tactile awareness.  From Goodman’s article:

“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,” Scott told CBSSports.com. “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.”

In jest you say Larry?  Read that quote again and really examine what Scott is not only saying, but trying to accomplish: a blatant smokescreen, posing as the traffic cop at the end of crime tape barrier shouting “There’s nothing to see here, move along!”, and doubling down on the efforts during his media tour today.  To borrow Jay Bilas’s words, how can Mr. Scott be so tone deaf?  That whitewash is not thick enough to cover what happened; the rug is not large enough to sweep this under. Even worse, he’s made statements in the last 24 hours that suggest Rush’s actions were based on directives that came directly from his office.  So your plan to address this burgeoning controversy is to implicate yourself in a potential breach of ethics?  Scott’s reputation as a savvy businessman and master of public relations undoubtedly suffers some slings and arrows now, never mind the credibility of Pac-12 basketball officating.

Almost everyone who offered an opinion sounded the same refrain: Ed Rush must face harsher consequences for his actions, and Larry Scott cannot continue on this current course of crisis mismanagement.  Ed Rush yelled fire in the moviehouse, and Larry Scott can’t excuse the riot that ensued.

And then there’s this: On the afternoon of March 15, hours before the Arizona-UCLA game between 2:31 and 4:42pm EST, six separate Las Vegas Sports Books moved the betting spread from Arizona -4 to Arizona -3.5, with a corresponding shift in the money line of 10-20 points indicating a surge of wagering on UCLA. In addition, 70% of the spread bets on that game were made on UCLA, and 62% of moneyline bets were on UCLA. That may not seem significant, but I would suggest it bears further investigation in light of the current scandal-fueled skepticism of the purity of sport and previous exploits such as those of the aforementioned Donaghy. Maybe this is simply a personal or professional agenda, but I’m not alone in wondering about this idea either.

So, consider my voice added to the chorus of those calling for Ed Rush to be relieved of his duties. Send him away with a golden parachute and a pat on the back if you have to, let Rush save face by resigning, just make it happen and happen swiftly. The Pac-12 cannot allow any coach, players, supporters or fans of any program to question or linger on the idea of getting a fair shake from officiating.  Perception now becomes reality in the opening of a weblink or reading 140 characters – one coach reportedly won’t schedule Pac-12 schools for non-conference games as long as Ed Rush is still in charge of officiating – and these festering questions tear at the very fabric of Scott’s enterprise and the integrity of the game itself.  By their current course of action, Larry Scott and the Pac-12 Conference are failing their very own Mission Statement, specifically Paragraph #3 which states in part, “To adhere to the highest standards of higher education, academic achievement, ethical conduct, sportsmanship …”  What Ed Rush did was far from ethical, intended or not, in jest or not, and Scott’s mismanagement of this mess does not live up to those lofty precepts. “Rome” is whatever is in your charge, and Scott needs to put the fiddle down as his house is on fire.

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2 Comments
  1. I’ll get the lattes. Right on Bobby True!

  2. Right on Bobby True! I’ll get the lattes.

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