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Larry Scott, Ed Rush and Their Pac of Problems

I’ve got bad news for Ed Rush: What happens in Vegas does not necessarily stay in Vegas.

The Ed Rush story is more than 14 hours old as I type this sentence and the Pac-12 Director of Officiating still has a job. If he still holds that position 14 hours from now, I will be shocked.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott must fire Rush immediately. That he has yet to do so is really the first true misstep of his bright, shining tenure.

To review: Last night Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com published a story in which he revealed that during the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament, Rush, the conference’s supervisor of officials, told his referees that in reference to Arizona coach Sean Miller, he would give them either $5,000 or a trip to Cancun if any of them “rang him up” (called a technical foul) or “ran him” (ejected Miller from the game).

Rush did not do this once. He did it twice: on Thursday, the first day of the tournament, Rush made this announcement and then on Friday, during the officials’ meeting, he reiterated it.

On Friday UCLA beat Arizona, 66-64. With 4:37 left in the game Miller disputed a double dribble call against his Wildcats (“He touched the ball! He touched the ball!” Miller yelled, meaning that a Bruin player had touched the ball before U of A guard Mark Lyons touched it). For that, Miller was given a technical foul.

His first of the season.

Arizona lost, 66-64.

There are many aspects of this tale that are infuriating. First and foremost, of course, is that Rush, who became an NBA referee in 1966 at the age of 24, would ever say what he did, even in jest. Second –and a very close second–, that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who was informed of the allegations some two weeks before Goodman’s story broke yesterday, attempted to keep this quiet.

In Scott’s statement to CBS Sports yesterday, he said, “We have concluded that while Rush made inappropriate comments that he now regrets during internal meetings that referenced rewards, he made the comments in jest and the officials in the room realized they were not serious offers (this is not true, by the way). Following our review, we have discussed the matter with Rush, taken steps to ensure it does not happen again, and communicated our findings to all of our officials.”

Translation: “We really, really hoped that the media would never unearth this story. But now that you have, we have a dilemma. If we fire Rush, a valid question is, Why did you wait until the media discovered this story to terminate him? If we do not fire Rush, we expose ourselves to claims, quite valid claims, that we have allowed the integrity of our conference to be compromised. So we’re just going to go with this story of us having given Rush the ol’ ‘Don’t let it happen again’ line and hope that something explodes in the sports world – like maybe we learn that Tiger Woods is dating an Olympic skier! – and you all move on to the next shiny thing. Okay?”

But that is not going to happen. Oh, Tiger Woods will is dating an Olympic skier, but the media is not about to forget this story. Even Andy Enfield’s hiring at USC stands in its shadow, and his wife is not about to release any new bikini shots this week.

No, Larry Scott must deal with this headache. Clearly, from Goodman’s source, it is apparent that at least one of the referees did not believe that Rush’s comments were made in jest. Nor do I.

If Rush had made the off-hand comment once about a coach in general, I might be inclined to believe him. It might be a relatively inappropriate comment, but in the lockerroom world of sports, with a leader (Rush) talking to his charges (the refs), you could at least understand the attempt at levity. Inappropriate? Yes. But not corrupt.

However, Rush specified one coach, Sean Miller. And he designated a coach who had yet to earn a technical foul all season, who has no reputation as being a screamer or a ref-baiter. Also, Rush made this offer on two different days. Either he believed this was one hilarious joke or he meant something by it. And that any referee –whose future assignments are based on the whims of Rush – might interpret them as not being in jest, that there was even a door open for uncertainty, is all that you need here.

And by the way, what “steps” did Larry Scott take to ensure that it does not happen again? Why were those steps not already in place? And was Rush fined at all for his transgression?

That all of this happened in Las Vegas, a city where betting on sports –including college sports – is legal, only adds another dollop of questions to this flaming pie.

Larry Scott has a problem. A couple of them, actually. First, as I type this, he has a Director of Officiating whose integrity is in question. Remember, it’s not whether Rush said what he did. It’s whether we are supposed to buy that he was kidding, even though kidding only slightly amelioriates the gravity of Rush’s indiscretion.

As Goodman’s source told him, “(Ed’s) a bully. He just bullies everyone. That was his whole tenor of the meeting on Friday. We’re all afraid of him.”

Remember, referees are literally paid to interpret what they see. So you’ve got to give a referee the benefit of the doubt –or at least I choose to –that he is fairly deft at interpreting what he hears, as well.

Larry Scott’s second problem? Our assessment of his own integrity and leadership skills. No, Scott did not commit the transgression, but it appears as if he attempted to hide it from public view. As has long been said, it’s the cover-up, not the crime. Ask Richard Nixon. Or Jim Tressel.

“Pac” is short for Pacific, which is an ocean but is also an adjective. It means “peaceful in character or intent.” These are anything but pacific hours at Pac-12 headquarters.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!