Pac-12 school presidents took no action Sunday after learning the results of a conference-commissioned investigation into the Pac-12 Tournament basketball officiating controversy.
The Indiana-based college sports law practice of Ice Miller LLP said it interviewed 42 people at the Pac-12 and UA, watched video, and pored over documents before coming to many of the same conclusions that the conference's own investigation did in April, when the Pac-12 said former officials coordinator Ed Rush improperly tried to prod officials into more closely monitoring Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller.
"The Pac-12 CEO Group fully reviewed and discussed the Ice Miller report and agreed that is was an objective analysis of all known facts surrounding the officiating dispute at this year's Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament," said Oregon State president Ed Ray, the chairman of the CEO Group. "The CEO Group accepted the report, agreed there is no further action required, and determined that this independent review brings closure to the matter."
Ice Miller's report said that comments regarding a "bounty" from Rush were not meant literally and that the conference's $25,000 fine against Arizona coach Sean Miller was justified because of his actions following the Wildcats' March 15 loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Miller has paid the fine, and a Pac-12 spokesman said it went toward a post-graduate fund.
"The disciplinary sanctions, including the fine … were within the commissioner's authority and were reasonable," the report concluded.
However, the report said there were widely varying stories about how Rush delivered his comments. It also said that the conference should have allowed Miller to directly respond before punishing him and given him more than an hour to decide whether he would pay the fine or face alternative disciplinary action.
Arizona president Ann Weaver Hart, who is part of the CEO Group, said in a statement that she was pleased the report "will result in positive change to the Pac-12's oversight of its officiating program."
"The Conference's commitment to maintain integrity and improve the quality of officiating was important to the executive committee," Hart said. "I look forward to seeing major changes in the way in which the Pac-12 organizes and oversees basketball officiating."
Arizona AD Greg Byrne declined to comment but issued a brief statement through UA.
"Coach Miller and I have discussed the report, and we are ready to move forward," Byrne's statement said. "We remain hopeful this report will lead to improvements in our officiating program."
The 50-page report focused on three areas during the Pac-12 Tournament: Rush's statements during meetings with officials; Miller's conduct after the UCLA game; and the Pac-12's sanctions against Miller.
Here's a summary of what Ice Miller's report said about those three areas:
• During officials' meetings after UA's March 14 quarterfinal win over Colorado and before UA's March 15 loss to UCLA, Rush jokingly offered cash or a vacation to some officials who more closely monitored Miller. However, the report said officials' accounts varied significantly, noting that one suggested that a bigger premium might even be paid if Miller was ejected at McKale Center next season. "Due to the diversity of reported recollections … , a singularly reliable understanding of the events of either meeting cannot be reconstructed," the report said.
• Rush did not intend the comments to be taken literally, nor did officials take them that way, but many of the officials found the comments underscored Rush's belief in the importance of watching coaches' sideline decorum. One official stated that by following Rush's wishes with an ejection "you would become one of his boys, then you know you're going to get an extra four or five games" to work each season (Pac-12 officials are paid by the game).
• Official Michael Irving assessed Miller a technical foul toward the end of the UCLA game for stepping outside the coaching box, after the Arizona bench had been warned, but Irving said Rush's words did not influence him. However, Rush later said Irving took his emphasis on bench decorum too literally. According to a colleague, Rush's immediate reaction to the technical call was "oh (expletive). That's not good."
• The traveling call against UA's Mark Lyons that prompted Miller's protest was found to be incorrect but the resulting technical foul was found to be "a defensible, correct call" because the Arizona bench had been warned and any subsequent violation demanded a technical. Ultimately, the report found the UA-UCLA game was "fairly, although imperfectly, officiated" and that "the integrity of the competition was preserved."
• Miller later breached proper decorum by berating Irving just after the game ended. "I've never had a coach rush toward me after a game and yell profanities at me," Irving said.
• After leaving the court, Miller began cursing the Pac-12 in an arena hallway. An unnamed "junior staffer" with the Pac-12 Networks became unsettled when Miller seemed to pause and make eye contact with her while yelling obscenities about the Pac-12, including remarks the it was a "cheating" conference. However, Miller said he never noticed the staff member. Miller said "under no circumstance did I, or would I, attack an innocent person."
• Rush and officials decided to report Miller's confrontation in a meeting after the UCLA game "because it crossed the line of acceptable behavior by a coach toward an official." Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and other members of the Pac-12's executive leaders then reviewed relevant video. A Pac-12 Network producer informed the Pac-12 leadership of the hallway incident and the junior staffer was interviewed on March 16, a day after the UA-UCLA game.
• Scott told Hart on March 16 that the league would have to "do something" about Miller's behavior. Scott said Hart did not excuse or justify Miller's behavior but suggested that the apparent officiating mistakes could be considered as a mitigating factor. Byrne separately told Scott that Miller did not direct his hallway remarks at any individual.
• Later on March 16, the Pac-12 leadership and general counsel began discussing possible sanctions against Miller. They decided that the fact that the technical resulted from the protest of an incorrect call "needed to be considered essentially separate" from Miller's behavior.
• Byrne sent an email to Scott on March 17 that outlined factors weighing against a reprimand or fine, including Miller's work in promoting the conference, Miller's concerns about the quality of Pac-12 officiating and the officiating errors in the UA-UCLA game.
• Rush said a confrontation like the Miller-Irving one would earn an NBA coach a $25,000 fine, and fines ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 were discussed before Scott settled on $25,000. The highest previous fines levied on coaches by the Pac-12 were for $10,000.
• Scott said the fine would be eliminated if Miller apologized to the junior staff member, met with Scott and Rush, and if Arizona developed a plan "to work with Miller on his conduct." On March 29, Miller apologized to the staffer and paid the fine. The other two conditions were not met.
On StarNet: View the full Pac-12 Tournament report at azstarnet.com/pdf