Big Ten blew it

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

The details of Big Ten football referee Stephen Pamon's off-field life – bankruptcy, casino gambling, child abuse, allegations of sexual assault and spousal abuse, a dismissal as a cop after sexual harassment allegations, repeated child support payment issues and so on and so on – must have been pretty difficult to uncover, right?

It must have come from a subpoena-fueled federal investigation, a police wire tap or months and months of expensive investigative journalism, correct?

Ah, actually, try reading the local newspapers and checking with the county courts.

Pamon is an ethical disaster of a person, let alone a major college referee who gambling interests would love to get their paws on. But at least he wasn't hiding it. Anyone who cared could have found out about Pamon's background.

The Big Ten claims it cares, claims it uses a third party service to do background checks on its officials.

Well, if fans think the refs are blind, what does that make the service that couldn't figure out Pamon had no business making the call on anything, let alone a close football game with millions wagered on it?

If it didn't check public criminal and financial records, then what did it actually look for?

There is no allegation that Pamon or his crew did anything nefarious – even in the two games last month where they blew so many calls it led to a reported one-game suspension – but then again, there was apparently no one in power who even knew to look twice at this guy.

If a referee with a background in blackjack and beating kids, one who was nearly half a million in bankruptcy in 2002, doesn't raise a red flag then who does?

Obviously college conferences, as well as professional sports, need to do a diligent job investigating their officials to protect the integrity of the game. You could argue it's the conference's chief responsibility – not counting money, rigging BCS matchups or building a cable channel.

But if the Big Ten, the wealthiest college conference of them all, the one led by a former district attorney who just loves to talk tough, doesn't care enough to find an obvious problem like Stephen Pamon, then what's the hope for everyone else?

What of the dirty official who doesn't have so many clear conflicts on his record? What of the conference that doesn't have the financial resources of the Big Ten?

Jim Delany, the league commissioner, talked up a big game in July after NBA referee Tim Donaghy got busted for his role in a gambling scandal. At the league's football media day he detailed its supposedly cutting edge background check system with an air of authority.

There is nothing Delany, the most powerful man in college sports, likes more than lecturing about ethics and telling everyone else how to do their business.

He is the primary opponent against a football playoff, the driving force to take games off free television onto league-owned channels and the first to rip academics and integrity of other leagues, its coaches and even powerless players and recruits.

This, despite the fact his conference has been hit by major NCAA sanctions a whopping 18 times during his nearly 19-year tenure. Only the SEC (22) has been penalized more.

Or that under his watch the Big Ten has had the largest monetary scandal in NCAA history (Michigan basketball), the most blatant academic scandal (Minnesota basketball) and a horrific point shaving case (Northwestern football).

Obviously Delany doesn't want his games fixed, tainted officials calling penalties or his programs repeatedly getting busted by NCAA investigators.

But perhaps the guy ought to try to get his own house in order for once before demanding everyone else does whatever he says.

In this case, it would have taken little more than a search of public criminal records and the reading of the morning newspapers in Chicago, where the league is based, to discover that, to name just a few things, Pamon:

• Had filed for bankruptcy in 2002 to the tune of $429,407, with two casinos listed as creditors.

• Had reportedly been fired as a Chicago police officer after two allegations of sexual harassment by female officers.

• Pled guilty to beating three of his stepsons with an electric cord in a deal that dropped the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.

• Had been the subject of dismissed allegations of the rape of a 19-year old niece and physical spousal abuse by one of his former wives.

This one is pathetic not just because of the scope of Pamon's background, but the relative ease that anyone could have discovered it.

And once again it calls into question why the Big Ten is allowed to bully everyone in college sports. If it isn't smart enough to catch Stephen Pamon, then what exactly is it smart enough to do?

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