All eyes around the Atlantic Coast Conference will be on officials this weekend.
No one wants any faux pas — not league officials, coaches, players and especially the refs — with games like No. 17 Florida State at No. 3 Clemson on the schedule.
The league suspended officials after the Miami-Duke kickoff return chaos, saying the game-winning touchdown shouldn’t have counted. But when the dust settled, the result stood.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team is 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the ACC and still could win the Coastal Division, recognizes the fallibility of humans. He believes it’s time to modify rules made before technology upgrades that allow for a thorough review of plays that happen in real time.
“Whether you want to admit it or not, technology is just overtaking a big portion of the game,” Cutcliffe said this week. “It’s not just replay. Officials, to their credit, can’t defend themselves to slow motion. So they’ve got all of us watching on TV saying, ‘Good god, I can’t believe they blew that.’ And they’re looking in real time. I get that.”
The Blue Devils coach added that the idea that it was easy, eventually, using all avenues to see problems with the kickoff return that weren’t evident to the game officials in the moment is a problem, and might warrant a review of how to use what’s available.
“It’s just an interesting problem. I’d like people to look at it because you don’t want it to happen to another team if you’re going to use replay,” he said. “You definitely have to look at what went wrong … something went wrong with replay because it was too easy to see otherwise.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney wouldn’t want any questionable calls to decide the showdown between the Seminoles and his Tigers, who debuted at No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Swinney said the idea is not to get results altered, but to make everyone better.
“We try to hold ourselves accountable and the ACC tries to hold those refs accountable,” he said. “And try and teach, try and get better. Just like we come in and study the film, they’re doing the same thing. They’re studying themselves and they have discipline in place and they coach them up. ‘Hey, why did you miss this?'”
The ACC has a system in place for coaches to help monitor officials who call their games, and overall the coaches are satisfied with how it works.
Whether it’s the game-ending, eight-lateral kickoff return in the Miami-Duke game, or a missed holding penalty or a phantom pass interference call, coaches get to have input.
Many ACC coaches say a regular part of their postgame film breakdown includes identifying the calls they think were missed and sending video clips on to Dennis Hennigan, the ACC’s director of officials for football.
“We turn in calls after each game that we have a problem with and they give us the feedback. We turned in several after this game and there were a couple that they agreed with us on, a couple of big calls,” Swinney said, referring to the Tigers’ 56-41 victory at North Carolina State. “But again, that’s all part of the transparency. You’re dealing with people. There’s human error.
“Sometimes you see things and it really wasn’t that way. I think they’re trying to have some accountability in place.”
Even in the case of egregious errors like the Hurricanes’ kickoff return, which gave Miami a 30-27 victory and earned the officiating crew a two-week suspension, the idea of sending the clips in is not just so the officials are held accountable. It’s also so coaches can better explain the rules to their players.
“No one’s ever called or played the perfect game,” said Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, who added that he sent 11 clips to Hennigan after the Orange’s 45-21 loss to Florida State and was pleased with Hennigan’s explanatory reply. “I do understand the human element. The difficulty of being an official is really high. These are high-level players that are going really fast.
“If we do have questionable calls, for our education we’ll send them in so we can better teach our kids why a call was made on them, or if a call was missed.”
Shafer said Hennigan, who was not available to comment on the ACC’s officiating review process, “does a great job communicating with us.”
This week, everyone is hoping it’s routine communication about low-key incidents, not game-ending calls that could impact the national championship race.
AP sports writers Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, South Carolina, Joedy McCreary in Durham, North Carolina, and John Kekis is Syracuse, New York, contributed.
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