If Sean Miller was already livid about the quick technical foul he received late in Arizona's Pac-12 semifinal loss to UCLA almost three weeks ago, imagine how much more furious he is now that he knows what preceded it.
Pac-12 coordinator of officiating Ed Rush told a group of referees the day before that game he would reward them with $5,000 or a trip to Cancun if they assessed a technical foul to Miller or ejected him from a game, CBSSports.com reported Monday. Rush then reiterated that statement the following day.
Whether Rush was being serious or trying to make a bad joke, it creates the perception of bias when the Pac-12's head of officiating suggests a particular coach be treated differently than his colleagues. The only thing worse is that the Pac-12 is bolstering that perception by at least initially standing behind Rush.
In a statement to CBSSports.com, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott classified what Rush said as "comments in jest" and insisted the referees in the room "realized they were not serious offers." Scott said the league investigated the situation but made no mention of further discipline for Rush, saying only that he has "discussed the matter with Rush [and] taken steps to ensure it does not happen again."
Sorry, but that's just not good enough.
In a post-Tim Donaghy world when players and fans are more suspicious than ever of bias among officials, referees should be smart enough to realize there are certain things they cannot joke about – and prejudice is at the top of that list.
If Rush is in charge next season, what's stopping an Arizona fan from alleging the league's head of officiating is out to get the program the first time a controversial call goes against the Wildcats? And, even worse, who's to say with any certainty that Arizona fan wouldn't be right?
The technical foul against Miller came in the final five minutes of Arizona's 66-64 loss to UCLA when he disputed a double dribble called on Mark Lyons for losing control of the ball before re-gathering possession. Miller correctly asserted UCLA's Jordan Adams knocked the ball away, which would have negated the double dribble call and let Arizona to keep possession up two with 4:37 to play.
"That's a hard one, man," Miller said after the game. "If I cuss, and I'm out of control and I've been warned, then shame on me. But when I say, 'He touched the ball, he touched the ball,' because quite frankly I thought two of them maybe could have gotten together and say, 'Maybe he did touch the ball.' That's what I was hoping for. That technical right there is hard to swallow. When you lose by two and you gave them two, and you're the coach, you have to take that burden and I got that with me."
Chances are the officiating crew in question interpreted Rush's pregame comments as a joke and didn't let them influence their decisions, but that doesn't excuse him for making them.
If the Pac-12 investigation demonstrated this was an isolated incident, then maybe the league could make a case that suspending Rush is sufficient. If this has been a recurring issue or anything like it comes up again, the league needs to take a zero-tolerance policy, remove him from his position and finally somebody else to do the job.
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