A Lifetime ACC Fan’s Perspective on ACC Officiating

It’s a sad thing : the ACC apparently doesn’t even realize that it is killing its own brand.  The ACC is a basketball conference first and foremost, and despite expansions designed to enhance football, the heart and the soul of the nearly seventy year old league is hoops.  And the ACC is killing hoops, little by little by destroying rivalries with scheduling and…dare I say it…its referees.  Increasingly it is obvious to all but fans wearing blue-tinted glasses that they aren’t going to get a fair shake from the zebras in charge of the games.

This is not wholly an NC State perspective.  As a Clemson fan recently told me shortly after Karl Hess unceremoniously asked two distinguished former Wolfpack players to leave the arena earlier this year that he was not surprised.  “I hate seeing him come out on the floorl anytime Duke or Carolina is in town.  That’s when we all know it’s us against them.”  And by them, he meant Karl Hess: “he’s never seen a Tar Heel or a Blue Devil do anything wrong when the chips are down.”

Similar comments have been echoed by Maryland, Virginia and Georgia Tech fans.  “Is he (Hess) on the Mike Krzyzewski Show up there?” he asked.  “Might as well be if he isn’t.”

Anyone forty or older can remember an ACC where anything could happen and probably would…no game was one to be taken for granted, and it didn’t matter if an undefeated first place team was playing on the road with a team in dead-last, they were at major risk of getting upset.  And it happened, too.

One of the hallmarks of the old ACC were the officials: they were often as big a celebrity as were the coaches or players, and most knowledgeable ACC fans could name them on sight.

Take Lou Bello, for example.  “Lou was all referee and part clown,” “Bones” McKinney, Wake Forest University’s basketball coach from 1958 to 1965, said about Bello. “He had as good a judgment as anybody refereeing during my time. When I saw him walk out on the court, I was not concerned. I knew I would get as good a shake as anybody.”  Bello would make the tough call and take the heat for it, and actually seemed to revel in doing it…and as often as not, that call would go against a powerful ACC team jockeying to be in position to make a run at the national championship.

Bello told me once that he tried his best to be “color-blind” when it came to uniforms, and that he saw players, and not the school’s name on the front of the jersey.  That was during a short run as a sports anchor on television here in the Triangle, one that brought Bello to my school to talk to us about his time on the hardwoods. Most people loved Lou Bello, he was funny, he was memorable and most importantly, he was fair.  “If he thought he hurt {a coach with a missed call}, it would hurt him afterward,” McKinney said in the former referee’s obituary. Coming from a coach, that’s high praise — and Lou Bello deserved it.

There are other referee’s names in the lore of the ACC, Lenny Wirtz, who it is said in jest that Dean Smith would have sent to the gallows if he could have, and too many others to mention.  Fans will often remember those old school referees as “the worst of the worst,” mainly because they would unflinchingly make a call when one was deserved.  That fans of all of the schools in the original ACC remember them pretty much the same way serves as testament to their integrity.  Games were decided by the players, and that helped to make the ACC the best basketball circus on the planet, NBA included.

Now, not so much.  The regular season has largely lost its luster and quite frankly, any ACC game is no longer referees have their mind made up towards giving the Blues all the breaks and just when they look like they are on the ropes, anything questionable on the team looking to upset them is going to be called.  That’s not just State, it’s Clemson.  It’s FSU.  It’s UMD.  And so forth.
Sure, Dean Smith, Lefty Driesell, Bones McKinney, Norm Sloan and other well-established coaches would work over the officials, and a Lefty temper tantrum was a thing of beauty…but the games were called a lot more fairly and without apparent bias.  Nowadays, tales like this are all too common:

So, is it true? Does Duke really get all the calls?’ ” former Duke player Andre Sweet mimics. “I’m like, ‘Of course, it’s true. It’s Duke.’ It’s Mike Krzyzewski. The refs were afraid of him. He could get you calls that no one else could get. That’s part of playing for Duke.”

One has wonder what an old-school ACC referee like Lou Bello would have made of that.  It wasn’t that Bello didn’t have to deal with strong personalities, after all, Bones McKinney once installed a seat belt on his part of the Wake Forest bench in order to cut down on the number of technical fouls he received. Norm Sloan and Left Driesell could melt someone’s hair with their temper.  And Dean Smith would yap non-stop at the heels of a referee as they went by.

And presumably, he did so without telling a coach to “shut the #$% up” when a coach inevitably gave him the business for a call the coach didn’t like.  Or by “studying tendencies” of teams.  Or by making proclamations that “UNC doesn’t foul as much” (perhaps after studying tendencies?) No sir, Lou called ’em like he saw them, and he did so with a smile on his face most of the time.

Too bad there aren’t referees like Bello around the league any longer, because the ACC is less for it. StatefansNation has shown a statistical discrepancy between the Royal Blues and the rest of the conference, national columnists have recently called ACC referees into question with crucial calls or non-calls, and the league has said nothing in public in reply.  Perhaps they don’t need to: their silence says more than any rationalization that John Cloughtery — a former official himself — can ever offer. That silence says: sit down, shut up and take your medicine.

Too bad that medicine is helping to kill the best sports league around.  No one likes playing poker against a stacked deck, and even the perception of such a thing can sour the taste in any fan’s mouth.  That’s a perception that is becoming an apparent reality not to just ACC fans but also to objective national commentators and it is leaving heads shaking everywhere.

ACC College Basketball

41 Responses to A Lifetime ACC Fan’s Perspective on ACC Officiating

  1. TLeo 03/17/2012 at 3:45 PM #

    I remember those days too and enjoyed watching acc games (not just ones involving State). That is so true about anyone could win any game on a given day and no teams could be taken lightly. These days with the blue bias, the confeence has been ruined by the clowns in striped shirts.They totally influence the outcome of games, ruin the flow of the game by whistles every other time down the court and their theatrics when making calls. It was always fun watching stormin’ Norman and Lefty and those guys work the refs and it was never as personal and confrontational as recents refs have made it.

  2. 70wolf 03/17/2012 at 4:05 PM #

    State basketball was not going to get fixed until we dealt with Lee Fowler and the injustice in the ACC will not be dealt with till we get Swofford fired . The new Commish needs to have no ties to any ACC school. Keep up the pressure on the national media. Has SFN offered their officiating data to any of the national sports media ?? We need more pressure exerted.

  3. NCStatePride 03/20/2012 at 9:11 AM #

    Keep the officiating story in the spotlight! Thank you, AlphaWolf!!!

  4. Codebrown 03/20/2012 at 9:20 AM #

    John Clougherty = Chief Wiggum

  5. Rick 03/20/2012 at 9:54 AM #

    Great article.
    I am not sure what we can do to fix it but there is no question the change has happened in the last 15 years. The constant during that time is Swofford.

  6. ryebread 03/20/2012 at 10:01 AM #

    What’s hinted at here, but not directly discussed is how this actually HURTS the league when the chips are really down — in non-conference play.

    Right now by propping the blues up at all costs, it actually has hurt the number of NCAA teams that the league is getting in. There aren’t the RPI building upsets, or the thought that the league has a lot of depth (that the upsets create). Yes, the bad teams have to get better, and yes we HAVE to improve in early season non-conference play. At the end of the day though, the propping up of Duke/UNC has created the perception that the ACC is Duke and UNC, a couple of middle of the road teams and nothing else. Duke and UNC get their #1 – #2 seeds, but at this point rare is the decent seed for any other ACC team (FSU this year non-withstanding).

    It also hurts UNC and Duke once they get into the tournament. Outside of Duke’s title two years ago (when they actually had a legit, big man who was a cleaner), Duke’s pretty much done the same thing year in and year out over the last 6-7 years in the NCAA tournament — lose to some team that is more athletic and more physical. They don’t get all the calls they are used to, maybe get into a little foul trouble themselves due to people not ignoring the hand checking and flopping, and predictably go out early. At this point, I think Duke’s a Sweet 16 and out team unless they’ve got a REALLY favorable draw. This year, I had them going out against Baylor.

    UNC is the same way. Tyler’s will wasn’t nearly as strong when he wasn’t getting to the line 20 times a game. Zeller’s absolute shocked look was classic. UNC is a much better team and program than Duke, but I always look for that team who can push them around, mire them down and frustrate them. That team looks like Kansas this year.

    If the games in the league were called more fairly, UNC and Duke would be far more battle tested. K would have to adjust his strategy a little bit and actually get some real big men (I’m sorry, the Plumlees aren’t it). UNC would know how to play both fast, and know how to play in a grind it out, slow down game.

    The ACC’s bias is so bad that it has actually blinded them. It’s hurting the league as a whole and pretty much has to be fixed. Keep up the pressure!

    It’s not just about NC State and for NC State. It’s about the league and for the league as a whole — including UNC and Duke.

  7. SaccoV 03/20/2012 at 10:05 AM #

    As usual, great work by the master, Alpha. I was thinking back to all the State games I’ve watched on TV in my life, and I was specifically trying to think of at least ONE ACC game where NC State got a specific call/non-call in its favor, and I could only think of one. A non-call lane violation C.C. Harrison against Clemson (it might be GT but I’m pretty sure it was in Littlejohn) where he intentionally missed the free throw and left the line well before the ball hit the rim and tapped in his own miss for the win. I think we finished 5-11 in the ACC that year (’97-’98). I know that we ALL KNOW the Georgetown game in ’89, the Vanderbilt game, the UConn game, the Duke game this year, the ACC Semis with UNC this year, the ACC finals with Duke in ’03, Kenny Inge’s entire career. Can anyone else think of a specific example where we ‘got away with one’?

  8. state73 03/20/2012 at 10:32 AM #

    All the talk about the commish and the officials is mostly true. The only way change is going to happen is if the Presidents and the AD’s of the non blue schools join together and step up to the plate!!!

  9. tractor57 03/20/2012 at 11:03 AM #

    I was present in Reynolds for many games Wirtz officiated. I never thought he was biased rather an attention whore and no so great as a official. Hess on the other hand sure seems both biased and an attention whore. Note his efforts in the Big Least tourney and the now famous attempt to override a call in the NCAA tourney.

    I agree with Alpha that the situation in the ACC is beyond troubling.

    The answer is the rising of the phoenix (the Pack) and a move to reclaim the ACC from the blues. To that end remove the Swoff as commish, think seriously about the conference instruction to the officials and do not renew the contracts for Hess and all who dared to attempt the showboating in the ACC Tourney with the shoe tape.

    I do not want an official who is beholden to any team or color. Even if the ACC stays a “touch league” in the end there must not be a widely held view that the officiating is biased.

  10. patientwuf 03/20/2012 at 11:30 AM #

    It appears our esteem Radio group is on the poor officiating/look at me show- band wagon.

    I listened to the 1st half of the Georgetown game and on numerous occassions Gary Hahn called Ted Valentine out for Grandstanding. It was quit hillarious.”Again Teddy Valentine sprints to the scores table-he knows he’s on TV”. Usually Gary keeps his thoughts about the officiating to himself but Sunday he let it go.

    My poor wife (Tarheel grad) was a little alarmed by what she was hearing so I decided to fill her in on the bias of the ACC(not just officiating). She had no argument.

    Of course yesterday-my wife was showing me a replay of Zoeller getting knocked to the floor against Creighton and no foul was called. I told her his history for flopping preceeds him. Not much dispute from her or our friends(of course Tarheel fans) that were visiting.

  11. Mike 03/20/2012 at 11:34 AM #

    Great points by all. As a “veteran” in this league when I remember the great ACC being only 7 teams and resisting the addition of GT, I hate expansion and it is ruining the league.

    Tractor, I missed Hess in the NCAA – can you please fill me in on what he did this time?

  12. Hungwolf 03/20/2012 at 11:41 AM #

    Great Article! It is true that ACC officiating is horrible. It is hurting the ACC come tournament time as the games are not called the same as in conference so the ACC players are standing around looking for calls that don’t come. Zeller has flopped but no call in NCAAT games like he expects in ACC play.

    I think a big difference in the ACC today is a high level of respect between the Conference/officials and the coaches outside of Chapel Hill does not exist anymore. If a ref told Norm Sloan there was a problem with someone in the crowd, Norm would handle it. Seen Norm take the mic, tell the crowd to stop what it was chanting or have someone removed. V would do the same. What bothered me with Hess and the incident at RBC was that Hess/The ACC handled it. Hess never bothered to have Gottfriend handle it. That showed a total lack of respect to me. I have no doubt if Hess had just told Gott to get the guys to lay off a bit he would have and out of respect Tom and Chris would have been happy to do so. Instead Hess made a grand stand play and the reason he did is he knew he could, thus that validates this blog’s point to me.

  13. RaleighBound 03/20/2012 at 12:09 PM #

    “Note his efforts in the Big Least tourney and the now famous attempt to override a call in the NCAA tourney.”

    Is that the 2012 tourney?

  14. pack44fan 03/20/2012 at 12:12 PM #

    Seems like officiating has been a thorn in the ACC’s side for some time. I seem to remember many years ago that it got so bad that the league actually brought in officials from another conference for a year or so. I also seem to remember that the “blues” didnt’ like the result and the experiment was terminated the next year.

  15. RaleighBound 03/20/2012 at 12:20 PM #

    ^^ NM. I saw on SFN where Hess’s attempted overrule was overruled. Good times.

  16. MP 03/20/2012 at 12:31 PM #

    “Usually Gary keeps his thoughts about the officiating to himself but Sunday he let it go.”

    Yeah, I loved it when Gary said: “You can tell Teddy Valentine knows he’s on CBS today”.

  17. PackerInRussia 03/20/2012 at 1:19 PM #

    An official is asked to do a tough job. A good one is known by none (of the fans) and hated by all (the coaches). It’s easy to understand why someone would have a hard time accepting that and want to show off a bit. In our society, there are so many outlets to become a “celebrity” to some extent that it almost goes against one’s nature to not try to act out when the TV camera is pointed at you. Except in this case it’s not pointed at them, they just happen to be there.

  18. wilmwolf80 03/20/2012 at 2:37 PM #

    My thought on officiating has always been this: if I know your name as an official, then you have failed at doing your job. There are a good number of officials that call ACC games, and the great majority of them blend in to the court. They do their job, they don’t grandstand, they don’t yuk it up with the players and coaches, they just do their job. On the other hand, there are a handful of really terrible officials. Officials that I know by name and by tendency (imagine that, I know the tendencies of the officials Mr. Clougherty). These are the ones that need to go.

  19. packistanbul 03/20/2012 at 3:53 PM #

    Our two games in the tourney showed us two different ways of officiating, both acceptable.
    Refs in the SDSU game did a great job, did not make many obvious wrong calls either way. They had a good day, the game flowed very well. This is good officiating.
    in the Georgetown game, the officials did not have a good day, making plenty of wrong calls or no calls either way. However, this was ok too, because these wrong or no calls did not favor any team nor influenced the outcome. They were equally bad for both of the teams, and that is ok too. Noone can have a perfect day all the time. So, this is a good way of ‘bad officiating’ and nobody complained even the team that lost. I think if we had lost, we would not complain either.

    However if the officials are inconsistent with officiating and the calls or no calls establish a pattern favoring ( not necessarily intentionally, but certainly related with ‘tendencies’) a team over the other well that’s real bad officiating. Well, see our unc game…

  20. tractor57 03/20/2012 at 5:36 PM #

    “inconsistent” +1
    That is the big issue along with blatant favoritism and showboating IMO

    Agree with the earlier comments about respect of the officials for the coaches decades ago. Sloan not only would have someone tossed for being way out of line I suspect he would have punched that person in the mouth. In my day the court at Reynolds was sacred as was the game. Reynolds was incredibly loud especially when UNX came to town. It also was pretty darn loud for the Wolfpack women.

  21. oceanman 03/20/2012 at 6:13 PM #

    Don’t forget Hank Nichols, also one of the best, often teamed up with Lenny Wirtz.

  22. Wufpacker 03/20/2012 at 6:16 PM #

    Hated Wirtz. Whenever he got the opportunity to shine at crunch time, there seemed to be a bit more spring in his step. I might even say he pranced. But as Alpha pointed out, everyone hated him. He was unbiased in his quest for the perfect camera angle.

  23. 61Packer 03/20/2012 at 6:28 PM #

    There is little doubt that refs like Bello, Wirtz and Joe Mills were better liked than their modern counterparts. There is some doubt for me, however, as to whether the past refs were actually any better than the current ones. Today’s shot clock game, which is faster and sloppier than the game was in the 60s and 70s, is much more difficult to call, even with 3 refs instead of 2. Sometimes I believe we’d be better off with only 2 refs again so there would be no hesitation by the two officials who were waiting for the other one to make the call.

    Refs are only human and I do think there is a pre-conceived mindset among officials as to which team is better. To wit: if there is a game-deciding collision between an ACC all-conference point guard wearing blue and a utility guard wearing red, the guy not wearing blue must be at fault, and if not, then obviously the guy in blue wasn’t either.

  24. imawolf 03/20/2012 at 6:32 PM #

    Tell me, the ACC television commercial, touting thee ACC’s rich heritage by showing the pictures of the basketball coaches past and present isn’t signed off by Swofford.. I’m not sure about the rest of you out there, but damned if I don’t dislike their opening of Dean Smith and then the long pause of Ole Roy pointing off in the distance like some freaking medal of honor winner General….. They barely flash the other coaches out there…..but BY GOLLY they sure hone in on the those two…..and really, how much do I want to look at OLE ROY…for crying out loud, he had an opposing fan tossed for rooting for his team in the Dean Dome……. FREAK THEM.

  25. ancsu87 03/20/2012 at 6:41 PM #

    “in the Georgetown game, the officials did not have a good day, making plenty of wrong calls or no calls either way.”

    Two ACC refs on that crew .. surprise anyone? When you see them miss a double dribble 15 seconds into the game you know they suck. However they did call 23 fouls on GT to 14 on NCSU. If we had shot just 65% instead of 61% from the FT line it would not have been so close a game. I look forward to seeing how they shoot FT on Friday night as I am sure Coach will discuss this with them in the nicest way.

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