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Open Plea to the ACC: Fix the Officiating Now

If you watched Boston College rally late in the fourth quarter to knock off Virginia Tech last night you saw yet another horrid display of officiating from the ACC. As though having bad officiating is enough of a pain, the ACC continues to embarrass itself on national television week in and week out with inconsistent calls and questionable instant replay decisions. It has gotten to the point that the ESPN broadcast team was implying ACC officials are a joke since they had to sit through last night's fiasco and the one two weeks prior when FSU visited Wake Forest. The excellent college football blog EDSBS lobbed a volley at ACC officials as well:

We’d love to be an ACC ref, because if you don’t make a call, you can simply ask those around you what happened, and they’ll helpfully tell you the proper decision. That’s what happened on Tech’s only touchdown last night, which came after an equally fishy pass interference call on Boston College. The line judge, blocked from the play by a linesman, a roadside fruit stand, and the planet Mercury, missed Eddie Royal bobbling the ball before gaining control of it a full six inches out of bounds and in midair.

The official, his hands literally extended palms out at his side, looked around for help. Fortunately, Virginia Tech players were there for the assist, and helpfully informed him the play was obviously a touchdown. Replay upheld the absurd call, too, proving that incompetence, like yawning or the plague, is contagious and unstoppable.

This is not a new problem. For some reason ACC officiating in both football and basketball comes up with more ways to mangle calls than any crew I think I have seen. In this season alone here are some of the mistakes I personally have watched.

BC at VT

  • Sean Glennon's TD pass to Eddie Royal was ruled a TD after the line judge had to ask for help from another officials. For some reason the LJ was blocked from seeing the play and called for the referee standing at the back of the end zone for help who was in no position to make the call since he would have been unable to see whether Royal had control of the ball and had his feet down inbounds. Someone tell me why ACC officials find it so freaking difficult to position themselves to make the right call, more on this later.
  • After the refs decided Royal's catch was a TD we of course fall back on instant replay and rightfully so, replay was made for situations like this. Based on the replay, Royal appeared to still bobble the ball when his foot went out of bounds and everyone not wearing maroon agreed that it was not a TD. The ACC replay officials disagreed with every other sane person on the planet and refused the reverse the call which begs to ask the question do ACC officials actually reverse any calls? That is really a rhetorical question because I know they do when it is blatantly obvious but it seems based on my experience ACC officials have a hard time reversing a call when doing so means showing a pair.


  • Tenuta Williams clearly picks of SCAR's Chris Smelley but it is ruled an incomplete on the field. Replay confirms the call despite clear evidence he secured the ball.

UVa at UNC

  • Officials rules a Cavalier FG is a miss because the official on the left side ducked out of the way because he thought the ball was going to hit him. Despite not seeing the ball clear the cross bar he ruled it a miss anyway. Replay, which was instigated by UVA and not the officials, reversed the call on the field. Like the TD call during BC-VT, this is a case of an official being out of position to make the call and then coming up with the wrong one. To add insult to injury here, the ACC officials did not even have the wherewithal to be pro active and review the play knowing full well the referee was out of position.

UVa at Maryland

  • Officials felt compelled to review two calls in the final few plays of this game. This is not as big a complaint as it is an annoyance. The first replay was concerning the spot of the ball on a potential first down and I think they got the call right. The second was on the Cavalier's game winning touchdown which was clearly visible on the field during live action but nevertheless it went to replay and wasted more time. My general gripe here is to what extent is replay becoming a crutch to bad officiating versus an asset to make sure calls are right when certain human mistakes are made?

FSU at Wake Forest

  • Before last night this game included the mother of all botched officiating this season as described by the blogger Matthew McGovern:

In the Thursday night game on ESPN, Florida State and Wake Forest got off to a slow start following the Seminoles' first three plays and subsequent punt. It took 10-15 minutes for the referees to determine that an illegal block in the back by Wake Forest gave FSU the first down their offensive team couldn't produce.The 'Noles were called for illegal procedure on their first punt and had to assess a five-yard penalty and repeat the fourth down. They punted a second time, and Wake Forest was called for an illegal block in the back, a 10-yard penalty. Initially, the referees announced that the penalty would be assessed 10 yards from where the block occurred and Wake Forest would get possession.

However, events that happened shortly after the illegal block complicated the situation. The punt landed, bounced off the helmet of a Demon Deacon special teams player and was recovered by an FSU player. The referees made three conflicting announcements before they declared an official review of the play.

The referees came to the conclusion that even before the ball bounced off the helment of a Wake Forest player, it had grazed an FSU player, effectively making the ball dead at the point he touched the ball. Subsequently, Florida State was given the option to accept the 10-yard penalty. They did accept, and it gave them a first down — the 'Noles went back to work on offense after all that. Fittingly, Florida State went three-and-out and punted the ball to about the same spot their original punt had landed.

  • When all that was said and done I am not convinced they got the call right in giving the ball back to Florida State. In addition the fact it took 10-15 minutes and three wrong announcements of the call is extremely disturbing.

On the basic level I understand that even with replay in place there will be calls that get missed. There have been numerous situations in other conferences such as the botched fair catch call for UConn last week and even the missed onside kick call between Oregon and Oklahoma last season. And maybe it is because I do not watch other conferences as intently as I do the ACC but the perception I have of the officiating is not a good one.

As I said I think the root problem comes down to the officials making good calls during live action. Instant replay is a tool put in place to deal with circumstances where basic human error comes in or an official does not see a key aspect of the play. In the ACC it seems like instant replay has become more of a life support system for bad officiating. The problem there is we have reached a point where many calls are being reviewed "just to be sure" because there is a lack of confidence that the live action call was the correct one.

I also think the whole use of instant replay in the ACC takes too long and in many cases does not produce the correct call when it is missed on the field. As I said before, I have noted that ACC officials seem unwilling to overturn the call when it is a close despite the fact the evidence says it should be overturned. The VT touchdown last night was an example of this as was the UNC interception versus SCAR. If anyone has actual stats they want to offer I am all ears but drawing from my observations I can almost reasonably predict when I think ACC officials will refuse to overturn a call. I think the standard of "indisputable video evidence" is a nice standard but also ritually abused in the ACC to refrain from reversing a wrong call by the on the field referees.  I also have no idea why this is the case. Are they simply afraid that replay will meddle to much with the on the field calls that they are hesitant to overturn?  Is too much weight given to the field that the booth would rather let bad calls stand than reverse them?  I have no idea but when it happens too many times conspiracy theorists around the conference begin having face tics and go nuts on the message boards.  Well actually they increase their level of nuttiness on the message boards...if that is possible.

The bottom line is ACC officiating is now officially an embarrassment to the conference. When ESPN announcers start referring to past incidents and makes jokes about how long it will take or are uncertain if the call be handled properly then you obviously have a PR nightmare on your hands. ACC football is having a tough enough time right now getting a foothold in terms of performance on the field. Mix in bad officiating and the ACC becomes a laughingstock of mediocre football and even worse officiating. My plea is, fix it, whatever the cost and whatever the rule changes just make it a fair and seamless part of the game before a team really gets hosed.