Sean Miller, pictured in his team's Sweet 16 loss to Ohio State, was reportedly a target of referees during the Pac-12 tournament. (John W. McDonough/SI)
The viability of competitive sport is strongly rooted in its appearance of propriety. While every fan base gripes about calls and there are isolated instances where officials do seem to have an issue with a player or a coach, we still fundamentally believe that the games as a whole are competed on the level. That what we're watching is legitimately sport, and not a judged competition or sport-based entertainment.
When there is even a perception of taint in the administration of sport, its entire authenticity is brought into question. That's why the NBA had to root out Tim Donaghy (and claim that he was a lone wolf, as dubious as that may be). That's why the massive match-fixing investigation across players and officials in soccer is threatening that sport in a number of countries. And that's why Ed Rush should lose his job as supervisor of the Pac-12's referees.
In a report published earlier on Monday, CBSSports.com's Jeff Goodman revealed that the Pac-12 was investigating claims that Rush has been targeting Arizona head coach Sean Miller. Goodman writes that in two separate meetings with league refs during the Pac-12 tournament, Rush offered incentives to issue Miller technical fouls and/or eject him from the game.
The Pac-12 did not deny the conversations happened, issuing a statement that they investigated the situation (apparently after Arizona complained about it, as a school release stated later Monday evening) and that Rush "made the comments in jest and the officials in the room realized they were not serious offers."
To that, I say: It doesn't matter. The damage, now that the report has been released, has been done. And as long as Rush remains in his current position, fans of every Pac-12 school will have every right to wonder whether refereeing assignments are being manipulated or whether refs have been given instructions to handle games in certain ways.
The state of officiating in the Pac-12 (and other major conferences) was dicey enough this season to warrant significant discussion. I was at the Arizona State-Colorado game in Boulder, which was one of the worst officiated games I have seen in ages. At the time, it didn't seem biased. It just seemed totally incompetent and directly impacted how the game unfolded. Now, with this information, every fan who witnesses a game like that, or a dicey call that seems out of context, will have every right to wonder about whether something's not on the level. You simply cannot run a competitive sports enterprise where conspiracy theories actually can have a basis in reality.
It doesn't matter if Rush was kidding. It matters whether his staffers think he was kidding, and as you can read in the report, multiple people aren't buying that excuse. In addition to the refs anonymously quoted in Goodman's story, there's at least one NBA observer who isn't surprised by this, either.
Eleven years ago, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban famously spent a day working in a Dairy Queen after saying "Ed Rush might have been a great ref, but I wouldn't hire him to manage a Dairy Queen. His interest is not in the integrity of the game or improving the officiating." Rush, at the time, was the NBA's supervisor of officials.
Here is what Cuban tweeted today in response to Goodman's report:
The Pac-12 simply cannot have this. Larry Scott cannot enable this. He's too savvy a businessman to believe he can brush this under the rug and have Pac-12 basketball operate under a cloud of suspicion. Rush may very well have been joking, but the impact of his words, both on the referees who report to him and to the fans who watch his league, is anything but a joke. The only joke would be if the league does nothing about this.