Ted Valentine is back in the spotlight. Again.
Valentine, the ACC basketball official who gained national attention when he turned his back on North Carolina guard Joel Berry on Wednesday as Berry attempted to discuss a call, told The Athletic on Sunday that he was considering retirement because of the reaction to the incident, which Valentine dismissed as insignificant.
“It was just something that happened in the battle of the game,” Valentine told the website. “It’s not really worth talking about.”
The ACC did not share that assessment, removing him from Saturday night’s N.C. State-Duke game, although it has not made any public statement beyond that it was looking into the incident. Valentine also said he was removed from two Big Ten assignments Friday and Sunday and the ACC gave him the option of officiating Georgia Tech-Yale on Saturday but he declined.
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The ACC is already without Brian Dorsey, one of its workhorse officials, who could be out injured for an extended period after leaving last Saturday’s Duke-Florida State game at halftime.
It’s a complicated situation because of Valentine’s complicated history as one of the most talented but confrontational and flamboyant officials in all of college basketball. That behavior saw him dropped from the ACC officiating roster under former supervisor John Clougherty.
When Bryan Kersey took over from Clougherty last year, he brought Valentine back into the ACC rotation. Valentine ditched the showboating and confrontation, worked the ACC title game and earned his way to the Final Four, where he worked the Oregon-North Carolina semifinal.
Valentine has a long history of turning his back on coaches as part of his schtick, and coaches certainly give as good as they get with officials, but the optics of doing it to a player – and a senior captain with no history of friction with officials, the kind of player conference officials get to know well over the course of his career – were not good for Valentine or the ACC.
That said, as long as this remains an isolated incident, the ACC remains comfortable with Valentine going forward. If he starts slipping into old habits, then it will become an issue.
The ACC was in a similar situation three years ago with Karl Hess, who for years was one of the league’s most distinguished officials but also one prone to confrontations. The league tolerated his irascibility for years because of his ability. In 2012, he threw N.C. State legends Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta out of their seats behind the scorers’ table during a game against Florida State, creating a firestorm of controversy and earning a rare public reprimand from the ACC.
Hess pulled out of the ACC tournament in protest of the discipline. That provoked a demonstration from the officials working the first game in Atlanta, who came out for the game with Hess’ initials on their shoes, to the league’s embarrassment and fury.
Hess later reconciled with Corchiani and Gugliotta, a peace brokered by N.C. State baseball coach Elliott Avent, but Hess didn’t work another N.C. State game for almost three years. When he finally did, he assessed then-coach Mark Gottfried with a technical foul before the first media timeout, which the ACC interpreted as a rebuke to its authority. When Hess made a reference to Wake Forest trustee Mit Shah’s ethnicity in January 2015, he was gone for good. In isolation, Hess probably could have survived the incident with Shah. He hasn’t worked an ACC game since.
Hess was a good official with a bad temper. Valentine is a good official who veers into narcissistic behavior that can overshadow his work. That hadn’t been an issue since he returned to the ACC, until now. And if Valentine returns to a low profile, it won’t be going forward. It’s up to him.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock