Larry Scott’s been on a tear, knocking it over the left and right field fence in the Pac 12.
Until this week, when Scott refused to do the right thing.
Scott blew it by refusing to fire the league’s coordinator of basketball officials. Scott said Ed Rush was only joking when he told other league hoop officials he’d give them $5,000 or a trip to Cancun if someone would give Arizona coach Sean Miller a technical. Rush made the comments during a closed-door meeting of officials at the Pac 12 Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas.
If you are in charge of a league and your chief basketball official makes that kind of statement — in jest, serious, or just to get a laugh — it is nothing to joke about.
Because such statement destroys trust. It damages the integrity of a fragile but wonderful and entertaining game.
Basketball is an exciting sport. It features great players trying their best, coaches trying their best and officials trying to do their best. But they all fail at times. Players make mistakes, so do coaches, and officials blow calls at times.
Basketball works because there’s a trust, a belief, that even though a third part of the sport — officiating — isn’t perfect, it is an element that comes into a game with men putting bias aside, leaving personal quirks in the locker room and make an honest effort to call a clean game.
Scott says he did an investigation into the Rush comments, made public by a reporter who talked to an official who heard the comments before the Pac 12 tournament in Las Vegas. Scott says, according to his inquiry, Rush was just joking and nothing rose to a firing offense.
I think Scott is making mistake. He hasn’t made very many in his tenure. He’s kind of a rock star among league commissioners.
But you cannot let a comment like the one by Rush go. It is intolerable. Now that all Pac 12 fans, coaches, athletic directors, boosters have digested this, Scott can’t undo the dent to the trust that games in his league require.
Fans and coaches are always looking for somebody to blame. Scott just gave them a golden statue.
It especially stinks since Arizona’s Miller did receive a technical foul call in crunch time against UCLA during a tournament game, a close 66-64 Arizona loss, when Miller called out “He touched the ball,” five times, referencing a controversial whistle on a double dribble call by guard Mark Lyons.
Given the setting, the words actually said, I don’t think Miller’s protest rose to the level of a technical foul, to use Scott’s quotes about Rush. It was Miller’s only technical of the season.
In the aftermath, Scott can’t control the fallout. The Rush affair will become a reference and a joke anytime Pac 12 officiating is scrutinized or there is an issue or controversial call. Because of this alone, Rush must go. That would signal a move toward purifying the matter in some way.
“I can't for the life of me figure out how he doesn't recognize what keeping Rush will create for his league,” said Eyeon College Basketball analyst Gary Parrish with CBS Sports.
The trust issue is sullied in Pac 12 officiating. In every league, it’s always on tender ground with fans and coaches. Keeping Rush is stupid.
“You do have to trust the officials,” opined ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan of this Rush issue. “You can make fun of them, you can want them make better calls, you can ask them to stop preening for the camera, but as least you know, for better or worse, that they’re trying to officiate the game fairly. That’s why Rush needs to go.”
It isn’t like Rush hasn’t been under heavy scrutiny before.
As an NBA official, Rush caught the ire of Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban, who once said in 2002, “Ed Rush might have been a great ref, but I wouldn’t hire him to manage a Dairy Queen.”
Tim Donaghy, an NBA official not immune to controversy of his own, told a CBS affiliate in Charlotte, that as an NBA official, Rush "was referred to as Archie Bunker, because he always had a problem with blacks and he didn’t like gays.”
Donaghy said Rush should be relieved of his duties. “He has a track record here of using officials in a way to take care of his conflicts with other people when they don’t fall in line with his B.S. He’s basically a phony.”
Sounds like Scott is protecting a straw man who just lit a match and held it in his hand.
The Pac 12 doesn’t need to worry about a fire. Just remove the problem.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.