DeCock

DeCock: Scrutiny of ACC refs infinite

Staff WriterSeptember 30, 2011 

— When Doug Rhoads got his start officiating college football in 1979, there was almost no way to accurately assess his performance.

Now that Rhoads is in charge of officiating for the ACC, he can call up a video clip on his iPad, mark up the video with a telestrator, punch a button and email the annotated still frame instantly to one of his officials.

Times have changed, and quickly. Rhoads, a retired FBI agent who spent 28 years as a back judge in the ACC, has the latest technology at his command to supervise and assess his 10 crews of officials - not just in the office, where the ACC maintains a state-of-the-art operations center, but in his pocket, where he can watch a controversial play on his iPhone only seconds after it happens.

"It's cool stuff," said Rhoads, who started supervising the ACC's officials in 2007. "It just gets further and further technologically advanced. It's all good, but the scrutiny level of the poor official is 10 times what it ever was when I was out there."

The goal is still the same: To get it right. At its heart, the business of officiating football games is as old school as it gets. Seven officials try to make sense of 22 tangled bodies colliding at high speed using only vision, experience and instinct.

There's an inherent degree of fallibility, the inevitable consequence of asking humans to evaluate action at real speed.

In an attempt to minimize that fallibility, they are watched very closely.

On a Saturday afternoon, with as many as eight ACC games going on simultaneously, the operations center is a busy place. It's a small room, not big enough to fit a decent-sized conference table, but with TVs on every wall.

"The main thing I wanted was a command center where we could at least log all the games, on paper, even," Rhoads said. "I'm no technogeek about anything, but I know enough to know you can't break it, and the stuff is out there. I literally drew it up on a napkin."

Sitting at work stations equipped with the same video editing and cataloging software schools and pro teams use, a team of college interns monitors each ACC game. (The ACC office also oversees officials for Army, Navy and the Big South.)

The interns log each penalty and missed call, instantly creating a video snapshot in the system. An ACC official advises them while assisting with replay reviews elsewhere.

Rhoads, meanwhile, is usually in a press box somewhere evaluating one of his 10 crews in person, but every time there's a replay review in an ACC game, his cell phone buzzes with a text message. By the time he checks his email, on his iPhone or iPad, a video clip of the disputed call is waiting.

Back in Greensboro, Rhoads and Ben Tario, the ACC's assistant director for technology and operations, spend Sunday evening and all day Monday assessing every call in every game, as well as video submitted by coaches through a secure website.

It's not always the same coaches. Last week, one ACC coach didn't submit a single play. This week, he turned in eight. They all get an explanation from Rhoads, sometimes in as little as 20 minutes. Another site hosts video clips for officials to examine and debate.

On Tuesdays, Rhoads and Tario put together a video for officials and coaches that goes over controversial plays and addresses areas of emphasis. At one point, Rhoads goes over a roughing-the-punter penalty, reading from the rulebook open on his iPad next to him.

Another, shorter video, is put together for ACC officials to watch during their Friday night pregame meetings. Before every game, each official hands a portable hard drive to the replay official and gets it back, loaded with the game video, to review afterward.

Soon, maybe even next year, all ACC video will be handled online. Officials won't need anything but an iPad - and a flag, beanbag and whistle. That hasn't changed. Yet.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or 919-829-8947

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