It's a punch line to a dozen or more worn out jokes.
"PAC 12 officiating".
The feeling that many of us have conveyed over the last few years, the notion that we house the worst officiating system and personnel in the industry, is now, sadly, a national consensus. If you haven't heard, the latest controversy surrounds the actions of Ed Rush, the newly installed Coordinator of PAC12 MBB Officiating. Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports reported that Rush offered a bounty to any officials who would "ring up" or "run" Arizona Head Coach, Sean Miller during the PAC 12 Conference Tournament. Not surprisingly, Miller ended up getting both warned multiple times and T'd up for arguing an odd double dribble call against Arizona PG Mark Lyons. Miller later became the first PAC 12 coach fined for bad behavior when he was hit with a $25k invoice for confronting officials after the game.
The airing of this news was not something that the PAC 12 or Commissioner Larry Scott expected to have to deal with. They immediately went in to spin mode, something that has become laughably commonplace at Pac12 HQ in San Francisco, with Scott hitting the airwaves with multiple media interviews and with this pretty slanted piece by the new spin master of the P12N, Bryan Fischer. The gist of their talking points / spin boil down to the following:
1. Officiating in the P12 has "opportunities for improvement" (similar to human rights enforcement in Afghanistan)
2. Ed Rush, a long time NBA official, was brought in last year specifically to clean it up
3. The "problem" that Rush was trying to address when he made his comments (on multiple occasions, mind you) was that of "improving the on court behavior of the coaches in the P12" (Scott even noted in one radio interview that all of the P12 coaches got warned at some point during the Tournament)
4. Rush was "joking" when he made the comments and everyone in the room (both times) understood the joke and it's context
Each point of the P12 spin deserves its own consideration save the first point. Why? Because the first point is not spin, it is fact (even when stated in such a watered down manner). The guys over at Coug Center have been all over this controversy.
The next three points all have to be examined a little more closely. While I think we can all applaud the notion of bringing in a guy to clean up the problem of inconsistent officiating, what makes Ed Rush so qualified to do it? Ed Rush has a controversial background in the NBA where he repeatedly demonstrated an "us vs them" mentality when it came to the relationship between refs and teams. He famously got into a beef with Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, and, in doing so, showed that he had an interest in building up a public persona and reputation at the expense of the teams/programs that employ him. I won't pretend to speak with authority about what qualifications Larry Scott should have been looking for, but I would dare to say that "attention seeking diva" should be pretty low on the list. Scott himself has proved that you don't have to hire from "within the circle" to be successful at a job. Hiring a guy with a reputation for divisive behavior seems like a questionable move in this situation.
I also am wondering about point 3 and the problem that was being addressed by Rush that led to his comments being made. Of all the problems with P12 officiating that we have observed over the last several years, I can't imagine that managing out-of-control coaching antics (Mike Montgomery aside) is very high on the list. Why was this issue even getting airtime. This doesn't pass the sniff test to me. Clearly, there is a beef with Miller here ... Who knows who else is on their collective shit list.
This leads to the final point - that this was just jocular bantering and nobody took it seriously. This is the hardest point to digest because it is at best misleading and at worst a lie. If we take the statement at face value, then what was the point of making the joke a second time on another day about the same coach? My kids are in to knock knock jokes. Guess what kids? The joke isn't funny the second time you hear it. The reality is that even if there were sarcasm in the comments, the underlying resentment that Rush feels towards Miller (and whomever else he banters about) can't be denied. It is real.
And this is where the problem lies.
I don't want to argue that this is the biggest problem facing the P12 or that this is some kind of disaster. It is not. However, we have a virus that has infected the department and it is now a publicly acknowledged affliction. The top Ref has grudges and whether through seemingly harmless snark or through explicitly scandalous bounty programs, these grudges are being conveyed to the people who call the games leaving all of us fans, our coaches, our administrators and our players to wonder if calls aren't going their way just because of the inherent difficulty of officiating a game or because of something more nefarious. The Pandora's box is now open and it cannot be closed. The integrity of P12 officiating is now a legitimately debatable issue.
Scott needs to stop the spin and fire Ed Rush.