Beyond the ACCtion: An Inside Look at the 2011 ACC Men's Basketball Officiating Clinic

Sept. 16, 2011

By Rob Daniels
Special to

Just as coaches recruit and players go to class, the job of a modern college basketball official requires far more than a discerning eye, a thick skin and a wallet’s worth of frequent flier membership cards. About 100 referees gathered for an ACC seminar in Raleigh, N.C., recently, and they left with crash courses in rules changes, points of emphasis, interaction with broadcasters and the perils of Twitter.

Holistic hoops, so to speak.

“I think other conferences do have clinics; I went to a number of them when I was active,” said John Clougherty, the ACC’s supervisor of officials. “But none that I know of goes to the extent we do. It’s a full day.”

It’s designed to equip a 21st-century whistle-blower with the tools to “manage a game,” as Karl Hicks, associate commissioner and chief administrative officer of ACC basketball, likes to put it. Solid game management is essentially a communication art in which the official strikes a balance between authoritative enforcement of the rules and proper personal interaction with players, coaches, scorer’s table personnel and some people the fan at home never considers as constituents in the process.

The officials, who work for the ACC and Colonial Athletic Association, came from Miami, Maine and Memphis and dozens of locales in between. Clougherty, armed with the opinions of a panel of experts and extensive technology, made postseason DVDs for every ACC and CAA official that highlighted each man’s strengths and weaknesses. And that was only the beginning.

The most discussed topic was probably a rules change that fans will notice immediately: A defender standing in or on an arc within three feet of the basket is automatically guilty of a blocking foul if he is deemed to be a secondary or helping defender. While the determination of “secondary” is open to interpretation, the hardest call in the game, establishment of proper defensive position, has now been taken out of the equation in those situations.

“Fans and coaches will need to understand that officials will sometimes make a mistake and that replay will show a defender is, in fact, in the restricted area (when a charging foul is called),” Hicks said. “The good news is that it’s no longer a guess. And the reason the arc is there is to stop collisions at the basket, which are dangerous.”

Replay cannot be used to overturn calls made on the floor.

Clougherty also addressed the NCAA’s other points of emphasis for 2011-12: freedom of movement, rough play in the low post and illegal screens. But what typically sets the day apart is the discussion of matters not covered in the rulebook. A few years ago, the ACC asked John Letterhaus, a special agent with the FBI, to speak at the clinic about how to spot and repel gamblers and other associates of organized crime. A nutritionist counseled the officials on effective eating habits at halftime and in airports, among other places.

This year, Benjamin H. Porritt, a consultant specializing in crisis management and social media, reminded the attendees that everything they communicate by modern electronic means is subject to instantaneous worldwide distribution. Porritt, a spokesman for President George W. Bush and the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said recipients of such information are often unencumbered by professional standards of conduct or other filtering devices. Write something in the heat of the moment at your own peril.

“When you work for me,” Clougherty said, paraphrasing his public remarks, “you are always on the camera. You are a public figure whether you believe it or not. Every text message is out there. Forever.”

Hicks was even more direct.

“You’re responsible for your social media, your Tweets, your Facebook pages and your email,” he said. “And any communication via social media that portrays the conference or any of our member institutions in a negative light puts your association with the conference at risk.”

ACC Basketball Officiating ClinicESPN broadcaster Jay Bilas may have offered the day’s most eye-opening comments. He suggested that if he doesn’t suspect a call has been missed upon seeing it live, he has probably abdicated his right to render harsh judgment in the aftermath of replay. He then gave out his cell number and urged officials to call him if they believe his on-air criticism is unwarranted.

“And that means it’s really important to him to know when he got it wrong or when he got it right,” Hicks said.

At the end of the day – and it was a long day – the participants probably got more than they anticipated.

“Yeah, we need to spend half the day talking about (new rules) and about problem areas,” Hicks said. “But then there’s the other half of the day. When I walk away from these things, here’s what I think: We may not be the best at what we do, but we cover a broad range of information, and we prepare them about as well as we can prepare them for what they’re about to get into.”