ACC thoroughly checks its officials

PINEHURST, N.C. — Revelations last week that an NBA official gambled on games he worked created aftershocks throughout sports.

The ACC, meanwhile, already has a plan in place to help prevent such problems in its games.

Commissioner John Swofford said yesterday at the ACC’s football kickoff event at the Pinehurst Resort that the conference is entering its second year with background checks for football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball officials, a program covering about 225 officials.

“It wasn’t anything we saw in any of our games or with any of our officials that made us think anything was wrong,” Swofford said. “Our coordinators of officials are always looking at things and in a sense of connecting it to the background checks. We have to be diligent in that regard.”

The issue of officials and sports wagering was amplified last week when it was learned the FBI is investigating whether former NBA referee Tim Donaghy bet thousands of dollars on games he officiated over the last two seasons.

Swofford said the ACC and Big Ten are the only conferences that conduct background checks, though the NCAA performs them for men’s basketball tournament games and football bowl games.

Shane Lyons, the league’s associate commissioner for governance and compliance, said the ACC hires private investigators to vet officials, whereas the Big Ten relies on a computer check that isn’t always as thorough.

Lyons said a full background check is $135 for each official, and the conference allocates between $10,000 and $12,000 annually for the endeavor.

“I was shocked when I found out what it cost,” Swofford said. “It’s not much of a budget issue. It takes some time and coordination, but you get a lot for your money.”

The ACC has an extensive plan in place to conduct the checks.

Each official in the three major sports must fill out an authorization form each year that includes questions about gambling activities, as well as their criminal and driving records.

Another red flag is a history of bad credit, which Lyons said might hint at greater vulnerability to gambling activities than a person with a spotless financial record.

The conference conducts random background checks of about 75 officials each year with everyone guaranteed one every four years.

The program unofficially is mandatory; Swofford made clear the league will not hire referees who do not submit to it.

“You just don’t step in and do that,” Swofford said. “It has to have the agreement of the official to participate in the background check. But quite frankly, if an official doesn’t participate in the background check, that official is eliminated from consideration to officiate in our league.”

Of course, no plan is thoroughly foolproof, and Swofford conceded sports gambling among participants remains an important one for anyone in charge of a conference or league.

“Ultimately, it all gets down to an individual’s integrity,” Swofford said. “That’s what you absolutely have to have in officiating in our games.”

Note — Conference officials said the league sent proposal requests to three Florida cities — Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa — and Charlotte, N.C., concerning the football title game from 2008 to 2010. The league’s deadline for a response is Aug. 31 with an announcement anticipated in early December.

Jacksonville has played host to the first two title games and will do so again this year. Michael Kelly, the ACC’s associate commissioner for football operations, said the league was willing to split the next three games among multiple cities rather than award all of them to one site.

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