Late in the Arizona/UCLA semifinal at the Pac-12 tournament, Wildcat Mark Lyons was called for a suspect double-dribble, turning momentum in a game that had been trending Arizona's way. UofA head coach Sean Miller was livid, repeatedly saying 'he (UCLA guard Jordan Adams) touched the ball, he touched the ball,' to any official he could find. One ref, Michael Irving, took offense to the rather demure argument, and awarded Miller his first technical of the year.
It was a weird situation, and, apparently, it was all a setup.
Jeff Goodman at CBS Sports reported yesterday that Ed Rush, the Pac-12s Coordinator of Basketball Officials, had instructed his crews to go after Miller that week, even going so far as to offer $5,000 or a trip to Cancun to the ref who 'ran him.'
That report, if true, is tantamount to Rush fixing one of the league's semi-finals... in Vegas... a stone's-throw from a sports book.
Officiating has long been a problem spot for one of the nation's premier hoops leagues - a fact of life that CU fans are all too familiar with - but this takes the cake. No longer is this a quirky little issue that fans across the West wryly discuss over adult beverages. No, this is now an embarrassment that needs immediate addressing.
So, here's my two-fold prescription.
1) Fire Ed Rush
This should go unsaid, as, whether in jest or not, officials, especially the damn Coordinator of Basketball Officials, cannot be allowed even a whiff of impropriety. Integrity is non-negotiable; he needs to be fired, forced to resign, whatever. So far, it seems that the only punishment has been a stern talking to, which is grossly insufficient.
Get it done, fire his ass.
2) Shake up the system by hiring and maintaining an exclusive stable of officials.
While we're at it, why not actually do something to improve the on-court performance of the league's officials.
Currently, college basketball referees operate as independent contractors, officiating across the region, for as many games as they can schedule. They work for multiple leagues, with multiple partners, and are largely overworked. This system breeds inconsistent officiating, with communication, comfort, and fatigue often being a hurdle both within the crew, and between the crew and the players.
So, why not do away with this failing system? Why not hire and maintain a stable of Pac-12 exclusive crews, that do nothing but officiate Pac-12 games? Pay them well, expect the best. Use a grading system like the NBA uses, and hold them accountable. Replace those that can't hack it.
Yes, it'll be expensive, with the league having to pay the equivalent of 4-5 games per week for only two actually worked, but, if that's the price of a well officiated game, I'll happily pitch in to help defer the cost. Maybe partner with the Mountain West to both open up spots for more crews, and to defer costs, but the point is: create consistent crews, hold them accountable, and don't overwork them.
C'mon, El Jefe! You and the Pac-12 are better than this.