Arizona basketball Greg Hansen: Miller fine lets Pac-12 draw line

$25K penalty means league is finally ready to curb ref intimidation
2013-03-19T00:00:00Z 2013-09-10T16:34:45Z Arizona basketball Greg Hansen: Miller fine lets Pac-12 draw lineGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The Pac-12 has been so provincial and so soft for so long that it was inevitable a coach like Arizona's Sean Miller would pay for the sins of his predecessors.

Miller will pay for the behavior of former UCLA basketball coach Steve Lavin, who in 2001 said Pac-10 referee Craig Grismore "is the worst official in the country" and made throat-cutting gestures toward Grismore during a UCLA-Oregon State game.

Lavin's punishment? A toothless probation with no games missed or fine assessed.

Miller will pay for eight years of sideline theatrics and referee baiting by former Arizona football coach Mike Stoops, who was never reprimanded or punished by the league, and by those such as Stanford's irascible Jim Harbaugh, who never received anything more than a wrist slap for acting like a madman.

Miller will pay for UCLA coach Ben Howland's tantrum in Saturday's Pac-12 title game, when he became so steamed that he tore off his jacket and threw it into the bleachers. (An ESPN technician measured Howland's jacket-toss at 15 feet 2 inches.)

Finally, after decades of anything goes on the sidelines - after Cal coach Mike Montgomery was merely reprimanded for shoving one of his players last month - the Pac-12 has made a stance.

It fined Miller $25,000, an unprecedented figure industry-wide, for his critical reactions to referees and to a Pac-12 functionary after Friday's loss to UCLA.

Commissioner Larry Scott has done what his predecessors would not. He has dared to become a police force of one, judge and jury, too. It was an excessive penalty, but it's a wonder it took the league decades to act.

Scott has deemed that Miller will serve as an example to those who follow. If a coach can be fined $25,000 for attempting to intimidate a ref, or for being rude to a league employee, the sky's the limit. How about $50,000 for the next coach who shoves a player?

Scott fired a warning shot in October. That's when he fined USC football coach Lane Kiffin, $10,000 for saying referees "basically lied" in the USC-Stanford game.

It was similar to the rare 2007 punishment of ex-Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach, fined $10,000 by the Big 12 for suggesting referees in the Tech-Texas game were Longhorn fans.

Fines in college sports are new and unusual. Fines of $25,000 are groundbreaking. It makes you wonder if the Pac-12's punishment fit Miller's alleged crime of blowing a gasket after a late-game technical foul. After all, Arizona lost the game it might've otherwise won.

Miller chose to neither make a statement nor apologize Monday, although I suspect apologizing is the last thing he would've done. His scheduled press session was canceled. UA athletic director Greg Byrne similarly declined to prolong the story's news cycle.

What would they have said, anyway? The refs blew it?

That's what they would have said if injected with truth serum.

The Pac-12 is complicit in this fiasco. Scott and his director of officials, Ed Rush, inherited a decades-old and fully decayed officiating problem. Virtually every coach in the league, from 1985-current, most notably Mike Montgomery and Henry Bibby, have been reprimanded at some point for being critical of the refs.

Rush, 70, a 32-year NBA official, is the Pac-12's fifth director of refs in the last 20 years. Good luck to him.

Miller hasn't been any worse on the sideline than, say, Colorado's Tad Boyle, who leads the league in whining, or Howland, who cuts a menacing figure. Miller's technical foul last week was his first of the season and only No. 6 at Arizona.

He's intense and expects competence, but he hasn't been a squeaky wheel.

The real issue, one that Rush is unlikely to solve, is that the refs and the coaches genuinely don't like one another. They carry their bad feelings from game to game and from year to year.

By March, when the refs are tired and cranky from a 60- or 70-game schedule - remember, these guys don't take charter flights - it's a potential powder keg about to blow.

On Friday at the MGM Grand, it blew.

What happened next was predictable. Scott backed Rush. Byrne backed Miller.

The referees, who are independent contractors, negotiating with and alternating between the WAC, Pac-12, Mountain West, Big Sky, West Coast and Big West conferences, cover their own backside in an us-against-them environment.

You're never going to get any real harmony.

But now that the commissioner has started fining coaches thousands of dollars for not being a team player, there is a new and powerful dynamic: Shut up or pay up.

Contact Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362. On Twitter @ghansen711

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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