A GRIP ON SPORTS
I fully expected to get up this morning and write about the Mariners and their 2-0, opening-day win over Oakland last night. To pound out about a thousand words concerning Felix's dominance of the defending AL West champions. I didn't figure there could be a story out there that would rise above it. Guess what? I was blindsided by a Pac-12 officiating story. And, as many of you know, it wasn't the first time. Read on.
• Yes, we've covered the ground here before. But most of the time, the path we've followed has led us to a debate about competence, a subjective view that can be argued back-and-forth, with good people holding differing views. Today is different, however. Today we have to discuss fairness, an attribute that must be sacrosanct as far as officiating is concerned. In case you don't know the story – or stories, as CBSSports.com's Jeff Goodman and the Seattle Times' Bud Withers both wrote about it yesterday – it concerns Pac-12 coordinator of men's basketball officiating Ed Rush, the conference tournament, a possible bounty and a technical foul. Sounds like the plot for an ABC drama, doesn't it? In real life, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott hired Rush, a former NBA official and supervisor (and we all know how above-board and fair NBA officiating is), last year in an attempt to clean up the conference's officiating situation – and to improve its national reputation. But comments Rush made to officials at the Pac-12 tournament this season (and Goodman and Withers reported), comments that may-or-may-not have been made in jest and may-or-may-not have led to a game-deciding technical on Arizona's Sean Miller, have undermined that goal. If Rush, even in jest, offered a reward for a technical on Miller as a way to teach the conference's coaches a lesson in bench decorum (and no is denying he did), then Scott and the Pac-12 have a problem. A very long time ago a college athletic administrator told me perception is more important than reality in college athletics and he was right – in a lot of different ways. The important one here is simple. The appearance of fairness is gone. The perception will always be the Pac-12 is out to get Miller – “hey, they offered a bounty on him!” – or, if a call goes UA's way, that the conference knows it screwed up and is trying to make amends. There is only one way to fix this. And it is the right thing to do. Rush's contract cannot be renewed (according to Goodman, he works on a one-year agreement). Scott has to appoint someone else to oversee the conference's officiating program – my suggestion: Tri-City's Dick Cartmell, one of the conference's most highly-thought-of officials who told Withers he recently resigned from doing future Pac-12 games due to “personal differences with the direction of the officiating program;” the move would signal a 180-degree turn from Rush – and he has to distance the conference from Rush's comments. It's the right thing to do because the bedrock fundamental of officiating is fairness or, possibly even more importantly, the appearance of same. That's why the NBA moved so quickly to squash Tim Donaghy after the betting scandal. The residue of such an incident takes forever to clean off. And the stain of Rush's comments will color the public's perception of Miller and his relationship with the conference officials for years to come. Scott and the conference must scrub it clean. And they must start now.
• Washington State: Christian Caple mentions the Rush story in his morning blog post, but it's only a small part of it. He also mentions USC's hiring of new basketball coach Andy Enfield (pictured), who only seven people in Los Angeles could have identified a month ago. And yes, it is appropriate to ask if the number is really that high. … The Pac-12 blog reports Washington State returns players with the most career starts in the conference. Good or bad thing? Discuss. … Over at the Arena last night, California earned its way to its first women's Final Four, rallying to defeat Georgia in overtime. Greg Lee has the game story, Jim Allen pitches in with a sidebar and we found coverage from the Bay Area.
• Gonzaga: It's official. Kelly Olynyk is a consensus first-team All-American. The big guy earned two more honors yesterday, AP and Wooden, to become the most decorated Zag since Adam Morrison. Jim Meehan has a story in today's paper. … It's funny, but the WCC still has two teams playing, though in the under-the-radar tournaments. BYU is set to face Baylor in an NIT semifinal while Santa Clara took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three CBI championship series vs. George Mason.
• EWU: The Big Sky also has a team still playing. Weber State will host East Carolina in the CIT championship tonight.
• Chiefs: Spokane still doesn't know who it will play in the next round of the WHL playoffs, despite Portland eliminating pesky Everett last night. The Chiefs' opponent, as Chris Derrick's blog post explains, revolves round the Kelowna/Seattle series.
• Preps: The Associated Press named all-state basketball players in all classifications around Washington.
• Mariners: How to be successful on opening day. Start Felix Hernandez. Works for the Mariners. … There was also some good base running and a clutch single from Franklin Gutierrez, who we are happy to report is still healthy. … And then there was the solid work from a bullpen that should be solid. … No matter how much power the M's imported, the way they won yesterday bodes well for the future. … By the way, the Mariners held an open house at Safeco Field last night and the crowd that came to watch the game on the big screen was larger than 20 home games last season. Talk about optimism. … As is our custom, we can pass along stories from the Bay Area on the Oakland loss.
• Seahawks: The Matt Flynn trade to Oakland finally became official yesterday, leading me to this question: Who will be Seattle's backup quarterback next season? It's hard to find a veteran who can run the offense Seattle has in place to take advantage of Russell Wilson's abilities. … It won't be Colt McCoy, who was traded to the 49ers yesterday.
• Sounders: March is over. That's about the only good thing the Sounders could say about the month, though this story would make anyone smile. Now it's on to April and a Champions League semifinal matchup with Mexico's Santos Laguna.
• It's still early but we've been at it a long time today. I'm battling a tough-to-beat chest cold (the weather turns warm and I get sick; go figure) so heading back to bed isn't an option – every time I lay down I begin hacking up a lung. So I guess I'll fine something to clean around the house and earn brownie points. Until later …