Bill Hass on the ACC: Backup Role Becomes Official in Game One For Long-Time Statisticians
March 13, 2008
By Bill Hass
CHARLOTTE - A crisis was averted in the first game of the first day of the ACC Tournament Thursday, but few people were aware of it.
The computer system that tracks statistics went down after halftime of the Wake Forest-Florida State game. That's one of the worst things that can happen to coaches and media hungry to devour the post-game box score. Stats are the informational lifeblood of any sport, and their immediate availability is almost taken for granted.
The key word there is "almost." While folks worked to get the system up and running, the stats were still being kept by pencil and paper. Richard Carmichael and Elmer Hayashi watched the second half the same way they watched the first, their keen eyes taking in and recording every shot, rebound, free throw, assist, turnover, blocked shot and steal.
At the end of the game, their second-half stats were combined with the first-half computerized stats to produce the box score.
"All of a sudden we became official," Carmichael said of their backup role. "That's the reason we exist. And that's what makes it fun."
Brian Morrison, the ACC's Associate Commissioner for Media Relations, walked up to them with a broad smile at halftime of the second game.
"Everything balanced with the stat program," he said, referring to the first-game box. "You guys are great."
Keeping stats is something the math professors have been doing since 1980, when they began at Wake Forest. Neither is sure how many ACC Tournaments they've done, but it's 20 or more. And there isn't a backup crew for the backups. By the end of this year's event, they will have worked all 11 games.
"My boss was (the late) Skeeter Francis, and he had the philosophy of `I don't trust computers,'" Morrison said. "He always thought it was a good idea for someone to do manual stats, with a pencil, as a backup. If there's a power outage or a computer freeze, you can still do the box scores. What they (Carmichael and Hayashi) do is extremely important."
Hayashi enjoys the challenge of "trying to get it right." It's a rigorous task - he keeps shots attempted and made, free throws attempted and made, and rebounds. He can only glance down momentarily as his pencil flies fast and furious during the game. One of the things he has to do is make sure the total number of missed shots matches the total number of rebounds.
Glancing at his sheet after the first half, Hayashi could see that Wake had shot 11-of-31 and Florida State 12-of-26. Those were the same numbers the computerized box score showed. That's how good he is.
To Carmichael, who played basketball at Wake in the early 1960s, doing stats is a way to stay connected with sports.
"I would much rather be involved in some way rather than just sitting and watching," said Carmichael. "It makes you pay attention."
He was first approached to become a statistician by Phil Warshauer, who had taken an 8 a.m. calculus class under Carmichael as a freshman. After Warshauer graduated and became Sports Information Director, he used graduate students and undergrads to keep stats.
"It was a great reward for our seniors to keep the book," he said, "but it was a different person every year. Plus, they would be gone over holidays and breaks. I decided we needed some continuity."
Warshauer asked Carmichael if he might be interested. Carmichael thought "it would be fun" and recruited his math department colleague Hayashi, who agreed for the same reason.
"We did football, (men's) basketball and sometimes women's basketball," Carmichael said. "We produced the official stats until about 12 years ago, when we were literally replaced by a computer. Since then, we've done backup stats in case something goes wrong."
Instances like Thursday's glitch are rare. But occasionally, if the computer operator or the spotters have their sight lines blocked, Carmichael and Hayashi are asked things like who took a shot, got a rebound or made a steal. They always know.
Hayashi, who played jayvee basketball and ran track at California-Davis, likes keeping account of everything but doesn't worry about what it all means.
"I record stats," he said, "but others can interpret them. After I'm through with a game I can't even remember the final score."
Carmichael enjoys delving into what the stats can reveal.
"They can show excellence in a performance that you would otherwise never have thought of," he said. "One of the most outstanding performances I ever covered was when Charlie Ward played at Florida State. In one game he had eight steals, the most I've ever given. That was eight `real' steals, and they helped his team win the game."
He calls them "real" steals because Carmichael believes in the rule book definition that "a steal occurs when you have the ball and I take it away from you. If someone comes up behind you, knocks the ball away and it goes out of bounds off the other team, that's a turnover but not a steal."
Carmichael says he enjoys keeping the stats that require some decision-making, like assists. He believes it's helpful to have played the game, which he did in high school in High Point, N.C., and then at Wake Forest.
In those days, there was more pressure throughout the tournament because only the winner earned a spot in the NCAA playoffs. Under coach Bones McKinney, the Deacons won the tournament in 1962, Carmichael's sophomore season, and went on to the Final Four and finished third (a third-place game was played in those days, and the Deacons beat UCLA after losing to Ohio State in the semifinals).
Carmichael was a reserve forward in 1962 but a starter the next two seasons after the likes of Len Chappell and Billy Packer graduated. The Deacons made it back to the finals in 1963 and 1964, losing to Duke both times. He still has the trophies presented to the players, a big one for winning in '62 and two smaller ones for the runner-up finishes.
He said he doesn't remember much about how he played during the ACC tournaments, "but I'm sure somewhere it's all there in black and white."
And it is. Box scores show that Carmichael played in two of three tournament games as a sophomore, scoring two points. As a junior, he scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds in three games. In his senior season, he scored 19 points and snagged eight more rebounds. He had a 12-point game against Virginia in the opening game that year.
Totals for eight games in three years: 41 points and 16 rebounds.
"The idea was the same as it is now," Carmichael said. "Everybody wanted to win the tournament. To me, the play was equally as hard. There really was no difference in the desire shown by the teams."
As a sophomore, Carmichael decided to major in mathematics, eliminating physics and accounting. He wanted to be a college teacher and earned his post-graduate degree from Duke.
He joined Wake Forest as a math professor and eventually became chairman of the department, which he relinquished four years ago. He also is Wake's faculty athletics representative, which he describes as a sort of liaison between athletics, academics, booster clubs and the like. Another part of his responsibility is working with a person in the registrar's office to determine eligibility for athletes.
Each of the league's 12 schools has a faculty rep, and in 2008-09 it will be Carmichael's turn to lead that group and officially be known as President of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Despite that heady title, Carmichael plans to keep plugging away at his "unofficial job" of being a backup statistician. Hayashi, who retired as a teacher five years ago, plans to remain as his stats partner.
And Morrison hopes they never give it up.
"As long as I draw a breath, you two guys will have seats (at the tournament)," Morrison told them.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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