Independent review focuses on wrong subject matter


March 15, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller (left) reacts as NCAA official Michael Irving (right) calls a technical foul on Miller during the second half in the semifinal round of the Pac 12 tournament against the UCLA Bruins at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. UCLA defeated Arizona 66-64. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Pac-12 tournament was almost three months ago and Arizona’s basketball team begins practice in almost three months, but we are still reading about the conference’s officiating.

In any other year — and with every other conference — nobody is thinking about basketball refs in June.

That’s what happens when the coordinator of officiating says something out of line.

The conference has to save face. That’s exactly what the independent review of Pac-12’s officiating during the conference tournament was intended to do. We, the general public, got nothing out of this.

The intent of the report, conducted by the law firm Ice Miller, LLP, allows Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott to sleep easier at night. Let’s not forget the Pac-12 commissioned this report.

The 51-page review of the officiating program devoted ink to Miller’s $25,000 fine for his behavior after the Arizona-UCLA semifinal game in the conference tournament at Las Vegas.

It is unfortunate the review did not primarily focus on the Pac-12’s officiating operation overall, from the start of the season until the end. The review should be a derivative of former coordinator of officiating Ed Rush’s inappropriate and unprofessional light-hearted bounty, and the obvious dissension within the ranks of officials.

Instead, the report focused on what we already know — Miller’s behavior after the semifinal game and a description of Rush’s meetings with officials before that game.

Some will undoubtedly harp on Miller, who according to the review, yelled that the Pac-12 is a “f—— cheap-ass conference” in the vicinity of a conference “Junior Staff Member” (as the report labels her) after the Wildcats’ loss to UCLA.

The inclusion of this information allows Scott to defend why he fined Miller $25,000. It strengthens Scott’s suggestion that the bench decorum of coaches in the league — he would never single out Miller, would he? — are at the root of the problem here.

March 15, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott addresses the media in a press conference before the semifinal round of the Pac 12 tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The fact is if a whistle blower does not call out Rush for his silly bounty, none of this nonsense (the 51-page review) would have taken place.

We know Rush was joking when he offered his refs $5,000 or a trip to Cancun if they gave Miller a technical foul if he left the coaches box. Anybody who thought it was a serious offer is only kidding themselves. The point of the matter is that coordinator of officiating — a position of integrity in and of itself — does not make comments like that in jest or not.

The story came to a boiling point when Rush’s comments became public after Arizona’s bench, specifically Miller, was assessed a controversial technical foul after UA guard Mark Lyons was called for a double-dribble violation with 4:37 left. The independent review reports what we already know — it was the incorrect call, because UCLA’s Jordan Adams touched the ball, negating the double-dribble. Miller reportedly stepped out of the coaches’ box after the bench had been warned about its sideline behavior.

Miller was assessed his $25,000 fine by the Pac-12 for profanity-laced comments directed at referee Michael Irving (who gave Arizona the technical) and made near the “Junior Staff Member” in the MGM Grand Garden Arena’s hallway. The term “Junior Staff Member” makes this individual seem more innocent and unbecoming of such behavior by Miller.

The only real news from this account is that Miller did not act inappropriately “toward” a staff member in the hallway of the arena, as the Pac-12 insinuated in its initial press release detailing Miller’s fine.

Former Pac-12 coordinator of officiating Ed Rush resigned his post in April after his comments in jest offering a bounty for his refs to give Arizona coach Sean Miller a technical foul in the Pac-12 tournament

Now we know he screamed his displeasure with the F-word with the “Junior Staff Member” happening to be near him, and she was concerned about Miller’s behavior. He was caught up in the heat of the moment. His team just lost a significant game. It happens.

We can argue if the $25,000 fine was too steep or if it is consistent with how other coaches in the Pac-12 are treated at another time, if necessary. Miller paid his fine.

The “Report on the Independent Review of Issues Related To the 2013 PAC-12 Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament” should have been titled “Report on the Independent Review of Issues Related to the PAC-12 Conference Men’s Basketball Officiating Program”. That would be a good read.

Rush resigned and that should improve the Pac-12’s image nationally. But the story does not end there.

The Pac-12 officiating operation is need of repair.

The referees could not even get their story straight about what Rush said or didn’t say in the meetings they were interviewed about by the Ice Miller firm. They were all in the same room.

Some referees in and out of that meeting room did not like working for Rush. They described him as a bully in media reports. Others reportedly idolized him.

Veteran ref Dick Cartmell, a five-time Final Four official, submitted his resignation from the Pac-12 in late March after the conference tournament. He cited to The Seattle Times “personal differences with the direction of the officiating program.”

Pac-12 referees were noticeably absent from the late stages of the NCAA tournament. The highest graded referees work the Elite Eight, Final Four and national championship game.

This independent review is like a breath mint for the Pac-12. It only freshens things for the time being. Until the Pac-12 really cleans this mess, it will lack integrity and be a cheap conference.

That’s the G-rated version of what Miller said. publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports and