As the ACC’s supervisor of basketball officials, John Clougherty has an affinity for referees and appreciates the job they do.
Not that Clougherty always defends the guys in stripes, always takes their side.
During an appearance Wednesday at the Raleigh Sports Club, Clougherty was asked about a technical foul called against N.C. State in the 2004 ACC Tournament when a team manager quickly scooted on the court to wipe up a wet spot during play.
“That happened because three referees acted stupidly,” he said. “It was a game-changer. N.C. State had every right to scream and holler on that play. Let the teams decide the game. I’m not saying to put rules aside but let’s put some common sense into it.”
But Cloughtery, who will retire as supervisor after the 2015-16 season, also said there has been a game-changer for referees of all sports in the past 25 to 30 years.
“Technology,” he said. “That’s the biggest change. There are so many replays and so much going on a referee makes one mistake or two mistakes in a game and it’s shown on SportsCenter, it’s on Bleacher Report … ”
The ACC’s football championship game this past Saturday in Charlotte had a late offside call that went against North Carolina, negating an onside kick recovered by the Tar Heels. Top-ranked Clemson went on to a 45-37 victory while replays of the kick and photographs of the UNC players lined up for the kick quickly went viral – and the howls began.
They weren’t the only howls this season. The ACC suspended a crew of officials and replay officials for two games because of errors made at the end of the Duke-Miami game, won on the crazy, eight-lateral kickoff return by the Hurricanes as time expired.
Cloughtery, while not commenting specifically on the offside call, said he saw three photographs of the controversial kickoff this week in the News & Observer. He quickly realized the criticism they would cause.
“As a referee you have no chance, no chance,” he said. “Because with every mistake you make it’s going to show up somewhere.”
Clougherty, a basketball official for 30 years, worked the NCAA tournament 26 times and the Final Four 12 times. While some of his calls drew attention and criticism – Seton Hall fans still are irked over the blocking call Clougherty made against the Pirates late in the 1989 NCAA championship game against Michigan – it doesn’t compare with the scrutiny on the refs today, he said.
Taking over as the ACC supervisor in June 2005, Clougherty said he began receiving calls and letters and emails from every angle – fans, coaches, media – about refereeing calls in games. He said at one point in his first year as supervisor he was “coming apart” until being counseled and consoled by ACC commissioner John Swofford.
“He talked me off the ledge,” Clougherty said. “He said, ‘John, those fans are paying our bills. We need those fans.’ He said welcome it, they’re passionate fans and we want them.
“Does it still bother me? Yes. Does it bother me that a great football official MAY have made a mistake? Yes.”
Clougherty smiled, adding, “If ever you want to officiate, put (an application) in.”
As he approaches retirement, saying he has “one foot out the door,” Clougherty has been able to reminisce about his career and offered some personal insights:
Best game he ever refereed: Duke’s beating No. 1 UNLV in a 1991 Final Four semifinal in Indianapolis.
Best player he ever reffed: UNC’s Michael Jordan.
Best places to ref: Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium and Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas.
Most difficult coach to deal with: “I’ll take a pass on that,” he quipped.
“People always ask what coach is the biggest pain in the backside,” Clougherty said. “The ones you think are a pain in the backside are a pain in the backside, without giving any names.”