Greg Hansen: Cloud of suspicion envelops Pac-12

Bounty scandal involving UA won't blow over
2013-04-03T00:00:00Z 2013-04-04T17:15:35Z Greg Hansen: Cloud of suspicion envelops Pac-12Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Ed Rush toured the Pac-12 basketball campuses last summer, establishing groundwork and marking his territory, the new-cop-in-town routine that was good in theory but doomed from the start.

That's because college basketball coaches are ref-haters, and college basketball officials are coach-haters. That's the culture. You can say it's an exaggeration, but it isn't. There is no good will between the two groups, now or for as long as both shall live.

While Rush was in Tucson, the Pac-12's new coordinator of basketball officials held a clinic for about 70 Southern Arizona referees and then met with Sean Miller the same way he earlier chatted with Utah's Larry Krystkowiak, Cal's Mike Montgomery and their peers.

Rush's message was predictable: He would weed out the worst referees, develop new blood, overhaul the whistle-happy, no-contact image of Pac-12 basketball and be available for some give-and-take.

There was already some damage control: Many of the Pac-12 referees had hoped that commissioner Larry Scott would hire Scott Thornley, a three-time Final Four ref, who had been working the league since 1996 and was part of the good-ol'-boy network.

Instead, predictably, Scott went for the big name, the sometimes-bullying, oft-arrogant Rush, who worked in the NBA for 32 years where he developed an in-your-face, my-way-or-the-highway style.

Rush's first season got off to an inauspicious start when he quickly, thoroughly and unaccountably backed his referees in the infamous Sabatino Chen game at McKale Center, one in which Rush's refs waived off what would have been - should have been - Colorado's game-winning shot.

The league was the subject of ridicule for weeks.

On March 9 at McKale, in the Territorial Cup, referees ridiculously called seven fouls on Arizona in the first 2:34 of the second half. Then, in a series of confounding makeup calls, the refs assessed eight fouls on ASU in the next 5 1/2 minutes.

The game was forever butchered; Sean Miller called it "extremely bizarre. … I haven't seen anything like that from the time I was 2 to the time I was 44."

The gloves were off. Rush wanted a piece of Miller and, in the final five minutes of a Pac-12 semifinal game against UCLA, he got it.

Game-changing technical foul. Classic footage of Miller mocking the refs. An overblown $25,000 fine and, later, a charge that Rush placed a bounty on the Arizona coach.

Since then, Rush, the referees, Miller and Scott have become a bigger story than any on-court happening of the Pac-12 season, bigger than Ben Howland being fired, bigger than Oregon's advance into the Sweet 16.

Now the Pac-12 finds itself in the kind of public relations mess that won't easily go away.

On Tuesday, in a paint-a-happy-face-on-a-dumpster-fire mission on ESPN radio, Scott stood by his man, Ed Rush, "Nothing unethical took place," he insisted.

The perception, however, is that the Pac-12 has compromised its integrity by sticking with Rush. This won't blow over. It's inconceivable that Scott would merely leave this firestorm where it's at and hope it goes away.

The best option would be for Ed Rush to retire.

He's 72. He made millions in his career, has a six-figure yearly NBA pension, and he's surely lost the respect of those who work for him, and, more importantly, those who work in the Pac-12 and for its member schools.

He could make it all go away today.

Scott sat on this story for two weeks, hopeful it would not become public. He said that "the league concluded that, while Rush made inappropriate comments that he now regrets … they were not serious offers."

The league?

It can't possibly be true that the chancellors and presidents of the 12 member schools are in concert with Scott's decision. First he fines a coach an unprecedented $25,000 in a game played by amateurs, and next he clears the name of a stained referee coordinator, in the name of the league.

Scott has been exemplary in matters of financial growth. He is proving to be less capable in personnel matters.

It should further be noted that in the Pac-12 championship game last month, Rush put three B-level refs on the floor: Tony Padilla, Michael Greenstein and Gregory Nixon.

He did not have the service of the league's three most accomplished officials.

Six-time Final Four ref Verne Harris opted to call the Mountain West Conference title game. Randy McCall, who is working the Final Four this weekend, eschewed the UCLA-Oregon title game to call the UNLV-New Mexico game the same day.

And five-time Final Four ref Dick Cartmell, who had officiated every Pac-12 championship game from 2003 to 2012, chose not to work at all. He resigned from the Pac-12 a week earlier, telling the Seattle Times he did so because "of personal differences with the direction of the officiating program."

The Pac-12 has a massive problem. It won't go away until Ed Rush does.

On StarNet: View photos of the Wildcats' 2012-13 basketball season at azstarnet.com/gallery

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