Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Sorry for the scarcity of posts today. I've been a bit busy with Big Ten officiating issues.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany spoke at length with me Friday afternoon about longtime league official Steve Pamon, the Big Ten's investigation into two games he officiated last fall, and the league's more stringent approach to conducting background checks of its officials.
Here are some items of note:
The Big Ten's biggest mistake was not correctly interpreting a note on Pamon's 2005 background check that showed he had filed for bankruptcy and lost bankruptcy protection. How would the league have responded if it had identified "bankruptcy dismissal" as dismissal of protection?
"We were trying to figure out, 'What does it mean when a person has got $100,000 worth of debt?'" Delany said. "That's fine if you've got $1 million worth of income. Somebody on the other hand mind have $10,000 worth of debt and not have a job and that's a problem. Why it would have been removed would have been the issue. We didn't do anything and it's hard to say what you would have done."
In addition to including a note about Pamon's bankruptcy filing, the Big Ten's 2005 background check of the official revealed a casino debt for around $500. The proof of claim showed the debt belonged to Pamon's wife and occurred at a casino that doesn't feature sports gambling. As required by federal law during background reviews, the Big Ten contacted Pamon and allowed him to explain or correct the information found.
Delany isn't allowed to comment on the specifics of Pamon's legal problems, but he said Pamon approached the Big Ten in 1997 to discuss his situation. Pamon and the league agreed that Pamon would be removed from the officiating roster. He did not officiate games during the 1997, 1998 or 1999 seasons.
He returned to the field in 2000 after the legal issues were resolved and expunged from his record.
"He was off for three years, so that would indicate his position and our position, that they were serious," Delany said. "But at a certain point, from a factual standpoint, a legal standpoint, they didn't exist anymore. And then you look at a bankruptcy issue and you see bankruptcy's been dismissed. We interpreted that incorrectly. We were aware of the casino [debt], but it was attributable to his spouse."
Delany disputed a report in The Sporting News that Pamon and his crew had been suspended for the final week of the regular season because of their actions during a Nov. 3 game between Penn State and Purdue. The commissioner said the crew simply was not assigned to a Nov. 17 game -- the Big Ten employs seven or eight crews for five or six games, so some crews are always off.
Any suspension of an official or a crew goes into effect immediately, he said, and Pamon's crew wouldn't have been allowed to work the other game in question, a Nov. 10 contest between Illinois and Ohio State. And because officials typically are assigned games three or four weeks in advance, Pamon's crew likely was removed from the Nov. 17 schedule before stepping on the field Nov. 3 at Penn State.
"They weren't suspended for those games," Delany said. "I would assume those decisions were made before. They would have been made around the 1st of November. ... Their overall performance didn't get them assignments. It was a crew that, in fairness, probably struggled."
The Big Ten now requires its officials to report their non-sports-related gambling activities and prohibits them from gambling during the periods when they officiate games, but the onus remains on the officials. After the Tim Donaghy situation in the NBA, everyone is taking the issue extremely seriously, Delany said.
"There's a difference between someone who gambles and a gambler," he said. "If that's a big part of someone's life, maybe it doesn't work for us. ... The [Tim] Donaghy situation has affected other officials and the public's confidence. I've always said this is an area that has popped up, mostly player involvement, since the 1940s. So it is a big issue. We'll be better prepared for these cases."
It's a little late, but the Big Ten seems to be taking the right approach with background checks of officials and at least trying to monitor their gambling activities. I would hope that if the Big Ten had correctly recognized that Pamon lost his bankruptcy protection when it conducted the 2005 background check, the league would no longer have used him to officiate games. There were a lot of red flags with this guy, and even though many of his legal problems were resolved, you'd think the league wouldn't want to take so many chances with one of its lead officials.