SEATTLE — Early in the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament in Las Vegas March 13-16, the league's coordinator of men's basketball officiating, Ed Rush, had a pointed meeting with half a dozen of the conference's referees, during which he made something perfectly clear:
Rush thought his officials had been allowing Arizona coach Sean Miller too much leeway on the sideline. Miller was out of control, Rush said, and he needed to be reined in.
And then, sources say, Rush drove home the point: He offered the officials a "bounty" for calling a technical foul on Miller, variously described as $5,000 or an all-expenses-paid trip.
The Pac-12 recently investigated the incident. While it substantiated the facts of the meeting, it concluded Rush made the remarks in jest, while making it clear it thought they were inappropriate.
In a statement to The Seattle Times, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said, "I can confirm that following the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament, we received a complaint that Pac-12 coordinator of officials Ed Rush offered game officials inappropriate incentives for being stricter with Pac-12 coaches.
"I consider the integrity of our officiating program to be of the highest importance and immediately ordered a review of the matter. Based on the review, 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.
"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."
While Scott didn't mention Miller by name, sources told The Times and CBSSports.com that Rush's comments were aimed at Miller.
Complicating the scenario was this: Late in the UCLA-Arizona semifinal game March 15, Miller was slapped with a technical foul by official Michael Irving.
The technical foul was itself a matter of controversy. It was Miller's first since Feb. 25, 2012, and the issue didn't die there.
In a widely publicized postgame rant on the interview podium, Miller cited what he claimed to have said to incur the technical, which came after an Arizona player was called for traveling despite a UCLA defender having jabbed the ball from his possession.
"He touched the ball," Miller said, repeating what he had said.
Then he repeated the same phrase four more times for emphasis.
In officiating circles, the technical foul was considered debatable. There was sentiment that Miller was whistled for being out of the coaching box, and that he'd purportedly already been warned about it. And, sources say, there was belief expressed that such a borderline indiscretion shouldn't have warranted a technical foul in a heated, two-point game inside the final five minutes (UCLA won, 66-64).
Two days later, Miller was reprimanded and fined $25,000 by Scott for confronting a game official on the floor and acting inappropriately toward a conference staff member in a hallway.
The conference said it had officiating-feedback procedures in place for coaches, and said Miller was "previously warned about inappropriate postgame conduct toward officials."
"Coaches play a significant role in the overall officiating program," Scott said in part in a statement, "and are expected to address concerns through the structure provided. Threatening, intimidating and unprofessional conduct will not be tolerated."
The incident underscores growing pains in the officiating program under Rush, who was hired last spring to revamp the Pac-12 program.
Some officials say Rush, a longtime NBA official and an ex-supervisor in the pros, doesn't listen to coaches' input — their opinions are widely regarded as worthwhile in evaluation of officials — and others say he has an abrasive style.
Veteran Dick Cartmell, a five-time Final Four official, recently submitted his resignation from the Pac-12. Monday, he cited to The Seattle Times "personal differences with the direction of the officiating program."