Miller: ACC officiating bias is a myth
Jake Miller | Monday, October 2, 2023
If you ever need a laugh, I highly encourage you to check out the “Notre Dame Football News” Facebook group. It really has nothing to do with news – more so just random fans giving their opinions on everything related to the Irish. Some want coaches fired after a dropped pass or a three-and-out. Others wish Charlie Weis still coached the Irish. Bottom line – there’s an incredible diversity of viewpoints. However, I’m shocked at the almost unanimous consent that the ACC referees somehow fix games featuring Notre Dame.
Penalties in 2023
For reference, most Notre Dame games are officiated by ACC referees. When a non-ACC team visits South Bend, the visiting team tends to bring referees from their conference. Last week’s game against Ohio State featured Big Ten referees.
The Irish have been susceptible to penalties this year. This weekend, the Irish committed eight pre-snap penalties. None of these were controversial. Marcus Freeman blamed crowd noise. Duke’s stadium, which sits around 40,000, was not very loud. However, these pre-snap penalties are black and white. You can’t blame the officials here.
More of a grey area exists in regard to holding and pass interference penalties. So far this year, the Irish have committed 320 yards in penalties, putting them at 107th of 130 FBS teams. There are teams in worse situations, however. Fellow College Football Playoff contender Washington has accumulated 471 yards in penalties, most coming on pass interference calls.
Why would the ACC fix games?
Notre Dame’s not alone in being penalized frequently. However, Irish fans frequently lament that the team is treated differently or unfairly. As proven above, the data doesn’t prove that point – at all. But let’s dive deeper into the question/conspiracy theory: why would the ACC fix games so that Notre Dame would lose?
Some fans would point to the referee’s critical error last night. In the fourth quarter, the Irish punted the ball. Initially, the side judge spotted the ball on the Duke one-yard line. However, a minute into the TV timeout, after the replay showed on the stadium video board, the referees decided to review the play, resulting in a touchback, placing the ball at the 20. Two problems occurred here: referees aren’t permitted to use the video board as justification to go to the headsets; second, this specific play was not eligible for a video review. The ACC owes Irish fans an explanation and apology.
Nevertheless, I have absolutely no reason to believe that the officials working the game would risk their career and future to appease ACC executives. If word got out that an ACC executive tried to tamper with the match, the league would collapse overnight. Forget Clemson or Florida State leaving, match-fixing would kill the league like nothing else.
More so, we live in a digital age. Word about something like this would get out. The ACC has 12 crews and 35 auxiliary officials. Additionally, there are huge replay teams. One person would need to anonymously report their findings. That’s all it would take. We haven’t heard anything yet and we never will. There’s no bias here.
The Benefit of Playing Notre Dame
The ACC wants its full-time members to win games, but exposure alone is enough of a reason to play Notre Dame. Notre Dame games do wonders for TV ratings. Stadiums see huge jumps in attendance. Duke’s attendance on September 16th against Northwestern was 18,141. Against Notre Dame, 40,768. The ACC agreed to its scheduling arrangement with Notre Dame knowing that its teams would most likely lose their bouts with the Irish. However, the financial benefits for these schools are so great that they’re willing to take a loss.
Notre Dame fans will continue to complain about ACC officiating as the Irish head to Louisville for a primetime matchup. Until then, all the Irish faithful can hope for is that Marcus Freeman can succeed in eliminating pre-snap penalties at practice. If the Irish take care of business, no officiating decision will prevent the team from winning.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.