Ed Rush resigned as the conference's coordinator of officials Thursday. He told The Associated Press he was just trying to "lighten the mood" in a tense locker room when he "jokingly" made offers of $5,000 or a trip to Mexico for any referee who disciplined Arizona coach Sean Miller during the league tournament.
The Pac-12's officiating program has endured a swarm of public criticism since the incident became public and questions about whether Rush was joking persist. Some reports also have accused Rush of creating a culture of bullying.
"Nothing is more important to the Pac-12, or to me personally, than maintaining confidence in our integrity," Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. "Given the conflicting media reports, it is important that we do whatever we can to understand all the facts, not only to resolve the questions about officiating during the tournament but also to learn lessons that will help us make changes and improvements to our overall program."
Oregon State President Edward J. Ray, also the Pac-12 CEO Group chairman, agreed with Scott's decision.
"I agree that an independent review is important to maintain the confidence of our members, and of the public, in the integrity of our competition," Ray said. "While the review will focus primarily on the tournament, we expect that it will inform a broader examination of our men's basketball officiating and help us provide the best possible program."
On March 15, officials whistled Miller for a technical foul in the semifinals against UCLA for arguing a late double-dribble call against Wildcats guard Mark Lyons. Arizona lost 66-64.
Miller went on a memorable postgame rant about the technical foul, waving his arms while repeating "he touched the ball" five times in a row. He was later handed a $25,000 fine from the Pac-12 for what the conference said was confronting an official on the floor and acting inappropriately toward a staff member in the hallway.
Scott said last week that Arizona officials alerted him to Rush's remarks the night of March 17, a day after Oregon won the league tournament. He said he launched an internal investigation into the matter the next day and he concluded that it was not a "fireable offense," just a bad joke that stained the Pac-12's official program.
Rush said his remarks were part of an overall "point of emphasis" to crack down on coach misconduct on the sideline after Arizona's 79-69 win over Colorado in the Pac-12 quarterfinal March 14. In the course of that meeting, Rush said he called out officials who worked the game Michael Greenstein, Tony Padilla and Brett Nansel for not disciplining either Miller or Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle for their behavior.
Officials who were working the California-Utah game next Verne Harris, Deron White and Dave Hall also were in the locker room getting ready.
"I said, 'The game cried out for a bench warning. It would have been very simple to take care of that. It cried out for bench warnings,'" Rush said in a phone interview with the AP last week. "Another crew was waiting in there, getting ready for the next game. I would say there was a level of tension in the locker room, just because the disappointment that they worked this game, but they didn't take care of something that was a point of emphasis.
"So in an effort just to lighten the mood, I said to them, 'Hey, guys. What's it going to take? Do you think we could give you a trip to Cancun or maybe $5,000? Or who wants what?' And now they're all laughing, which is basically what I wanted to do. So I said, 'I know you guys, you probably want $5,000, you want the money, you won't take the trip to Cancun. So I'm going around, 'What would you take?' At that point, I said, 'By the way, you know my wife's not going to go for this. I'm going to have to pull this off the table.' They all laughed, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, bud.' That was it, and I walked out."
The 70-year-old Rush, a longtime NBA referee and the league's former director of officiating, had been a consultant to the Pac-12 since 2007 before becoming conference coordinator of officials last May. He said he offered his resignation to Scott by phone Thursday afternoon once it became clear it was going to be difficult to rebuild the trust of the coaches, players and public.
Rush said he plans to continue helping the NBA Development League find and train officials.