SAN FRANCISCO — Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said Tuesday that comments made by the conference's coordinator of officials are "not a fireable offense" and have been "mischaracterized" as targeting only Arizona coach Sean Miller during internal meetings before the league tournament.
In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Scott said that Ed Rush's remarks were part of an overall "point of emphasis" to crack down on coach misconduct on the sideline. He said an investigation found Rush's rant included an "inappropriate joke" offering a group of officials $5,000 for a trip to Cancun if they called a technical foul on Miller, but that every official interviewed confirmed "nobody thought they were getting a reward."
The investigation was done by the Pac-12's head of enforcement, Ron Barker. The conference will hold its annual review of the officials programs at the end of the month in Phoenix to review all matters.
"By no means is this complete," Scott said.
Scott said Miller and UCLA coach Ben Howland were told in a pregame chat on the court, which takes place before almost every game at every level, that inappropriate conduct on the sideline would not be tolerated. He noted that Howland received the first – and only – technical foul of his UCLA career in the championship game loss to Oregon the next day for similar sideline behavior.
Officials whistled Miller for a technical foul during the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament against UCLA for arguing a late double-dribble call against Wildcats guard Mark Lyons. Arizona lost the game 66-64.
Miller went on a memorable postgame rant about the technical foul, waving his arms while repeating "he touched the ball" five times in a row. Miller was later hit with a $25,000 fine from the Pac-12 for what the conference said was for confronting an official on the floor and acting inappropriately toward a staff member in the hallway.
Scott said Arizona officials alerted him of Rush's remarks the night of March 17, a day after the league tournament. He said he launched an investigation into the matter the next day.
"What we heard was consistent, which was Ed was coming down hard on the officials for, in his view, not doing their job well enough of controlling the demeanor of the coaches around the bench in various aspects," Scott said. "It had been a point of emphasis during the season, coach behavior on the sideline, for the language that's used, etc. He was emphasizing it and he was challenging them. He was challenging them and provoking them to be more vigilant in enforcing the rules and the code of behavior.
"And in that context, there was banter initiated by Ed, `What do I have to do to get you guys to enforce the rules? What do I got to do to get you to step up after appropriate warnings and appropriate warnings, to get you to issue a `T' (technical)? And in that context we verified that, `Cancun, $5,000, What do I got to do to get you to do it,' was said. None of the officials took it as we're going to actually get something if they T'd him up. He was making a point, and making a point very vociferously.
"We don't have a problem with our head of officiating to shake things up in our program, to create more accountability, to create more consistency, to create better communication with the coaches, to elevate our standards, to bring in some new blood, to ride our officials hard," Scott continued. "What I have an enormous problem with is joking around about it. Using inappropriate language. You don't need to go there. You should not have gone there, etc. I think the differentiation seems to be getting lost in the narrative."
Scott said Rush received a public reprimand but has not been fined or suspended.
"I didn't view that as a fireable offense. An ethical code was not breached," Scott said. "Was there very poor judgment used in the language? Absolutely."
Rush is a former NBA official who also served as the league's director of officiating. He was a consultant to the Pac-12 before becoming conference coordinator of officials last year.
Scott noted that Rush has carried out many of the items the Pac-12 hired him to do. Specifically, Scott noted that officials have allowed more physical play, there has been a heavier emphasis on training and accountability and officials whose performance was deemed unsatisfactory have been replaced.
Scott believes part of Rush's actions might, at least in part, be the reason information was leaked to cast Rush in an unflattering light.
"We asked him to go in and make some aggressive and dramatic improvements. He absolutely ruffled some feathers," Scott said. "I saw some people consider him a bully and other language like that. Some of that doesn't surprise me. He's been very aggressive in seeking improvement for the program and he has made some personnel changes that some people haven't liked."
At the same time, Scott recognizes that even though he doesn't believe an ethical code was breached, that the league has to make strides to show fans, coaches and players that the officiating is held to a high standard.
"Perception is a problem. Perception can become reality, and there's a lot of sensitivity around officiating," Scott said. "And you need to be beyond the pale of approach. We realize this is important. In terms of the future, this is absolutely something we need to assess."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP