Two years ago when our beloved Colorado Buffaloes left the horrible Big XII Conference for the new beautiful Pac-12 conference I was excited. We were headed to a land of like-minded schools. No longer would we be dealing with purely agricultural schools who offered majors in field turf management as we were going to the conference of champions. We were headed to Cali, to Phoenix, to Seattle and to gorgeous places that people actually WANTED to go on road trips to (see: not Lincoln, NE). We were leaving Dan Beebe behind and getting a visionary in Larry Scott.
It was perfect.
And on a personal level, I was excited because I thought I was headed to a land of decent officiating. No longer would the Clete Blakeman’s of the world screw us over as we played Nebraska. No longer would we have to deal with the constant moving screens from white seven footers wearing Kansas jerseys that would never be whistled. I had heard complaints about how Pac-12 officials were bad, but figured that it was just complaints from people who always complain about the refs their team has to deal with. I mean the refs couldn’t be worse than Blakeman, could they?
They could. And they are. And that’s terrifying.
And that is the worst part of the news that came out yesterday that Ed Rush put a bounty on Sean Miller during the Pac-12 tournament. Joking or not, it’s the worst possible thing that could have come out about Pac-12 officials. If you asked people nationwide to comment on Pac-12 basketball, I’m willing to bet that one of the top three most common responses would be something about bad officiating. It’s an absolute joke, and it has to be fixed. The Rush news is bad. No one can argue that. But I honestly believe that if this came out about the Big East or the Big Ten – conferences that don’t seem to have national problems with officiating – then it might be something that you could ignore. But to combine it with the image issues that the Pac-12 has already is death. Quite simply, the Pac-12 doesn’t have a choice in this matter.
At lunch today I caught Jeff Goodman being interviewed on Sportscenter and he made the comment – repeatedly – that Pac-12 officials are scared of Ed Rush. He said they felt “bullied” by him and they were all terrified for their jobs. Now this could be revisionist history or an incident where people are piling on, but with Rush’s background it makes it a lot easier to believe. He was the head of NBA officiating for one of the worst eras in NBA history. He was in charge during both the Tim Donaghy gambling scandal and the infamous 2003 Kings-Lakers playoff game. Mark Cuban famously called him out. He was notoriously hard to deal with, and the NBA and Rush finally decided to go separate ways.
When the Pac-12 brought Rush in, he decided to implement more of an NBA style of officiating in the conference. I will give him credit for one thing, and that’s the lack of ticky tack fouls that plagued Pac-12 games in the past. That toughness showed in the tournament as the Pac-12 went 3-2 in the opening round and had two Sweet 16 teams – a much better showing than last year’s tournament in which the Buffs were the leaders of the conference by making the round of 32. But he also brought the bad aspects of NBA officiating to the college level. Another point that Goodman made in his interview was that Rush didn’t like the coaches talking to the refs – something that is paramount on the college level. College refs don’t want to be listening to a 19 year old whining to them, so they deal with the coaches more. This makes sense to pretty much everyone that bothers to think about things – which sadly rules out Rush from understanding it. The fact that Miller is so vocal apparently did not endear him to Rush, so Ed Rush decided to make an example.
And now the Pac-12 is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
All this said, I still believe in Larry Scott. I ultimately believe that he’s going to realize that this is a huge problem and he’s going to have to address it sooner rather than later. The drumbeats are getting louder. As Andy Glockner said, what’s going to happen the first time Arizona gets a questionable call that goes against them? What about a questionable call that goes in their favor? Everyone is going to let that doubt creep in the back of their mind, chants of “Can-cun” are going to fill the arena, and that’s the last thing that anyone wants. Scott has to get rid of Rush.
At this point, it’s becoming obvious that Scott is a visionary. He’s phenomenal at the big picture, but as Adam has put it, he gets distracted by the shiny things. Unfortunately, this is causing some of the day to day details to fall through the cracks, and the little problems are starting to add up. No matter how you view it, the Pac-12 blew it with DirecTV. I’m fairly confident that they’ll get a deal done this summer, but this first year is unforgivable. Both sides need to realize that they have a lot to do to make it up to their fans. This situation with Rush is the second thing that Scott has blown. It honestly appears that he thought there would be a slight brouhaha and then it would blow over. That’s a gross miscalculation, and one that Scott is going to have to pay for. Honestly, if I were Larry, I’d be looking for a strong second-in-command to hire. Someone who has the gravitas to stand up to Larry and tell him he’s being na´ve about the situation. Having Scott as commissioner is like having a truly amazing big man. You’re going to win a lot of games with him, and you’re going to pull off some unbelievable moments, but you’re also going to blow a few of them unless you have a solid PG who can keep the train running smoothly. The Pac-12 doesn’t have that point guard right now, and that’s something they need to look in to.
Hopefully, that second in command makes it so that the only Rush that will be appearing at Pac-12 events next year will be the badass hard rocking trio from Canada.