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Paging Abraham Zapruder

“The trouble with referees is that they just don't care which side wins.”
- Tom Canterbury

It may not be on the level of Dick Nixon attempting to shroud the executive office in a cloud of mystery, but "HuddleGate" appears poised to capture the imagination of the Orange faithful until Florida State becomes the center of attention beginning next week.

The threshold question plaguing Syracuse fans this week is whether Virginia, just before converting a fourth and short play with a little over a minute remaining on the game clock, broke the huddle with 12 men. If that question can be answered in the affirmative, a slew of questions must (and many already have) follow.

In answering whether Virginia broke the huddle with 12 men, the answer is a resounding "yes." The NCAA rule is very simple:

Section 5: Substitutions

Legal Substitutions
Article 2: A legal substitute may replace a player or fill a player vacancy provided none of the following restrictions is violated:

(c). An incoming legal substitute must enter the field of play directly from his team area, and a substitute, player or replaced player leaving must depart at the sideline nearest his team area and proceed to his team area. A player who is replaced must immediately leave the field of play, including the end zones. A departing player who leaves the huddle or his position within three seconds, after a substitute becomes a player, is considered to have left immediately. Team A may not break its huddle with 12 or more players.

Given the conclusive video evidence, referee Jack Childress clearly blew the call on two levels - there were 12 men in the huddle (which is almost exclusively enforced as an "intent to deceive") and Childress failed to properly enforce the three-second "safe harbor."

With the threshold questions soundly answered in the affirmative, Watergate-like questions must follow:

Does this matter?
Who knew what when?
What are the repercussions, if any?
Is there a line of history here that should be examined?
Where does ultimate blame lie?

Clearly, the ineptness of Jack Childress and his crew on Saturday was not a material factor in Syracuse's loss. Players and coaches ultimately determine the outcome of a game, not an officiating crew. However, what is disconcerting (and it is great that Donnie Webb has begun to carry this torch) is that the ACC: a) does not appear concerned with the performance of this officiating crew; and b) appears to be caught in a web of their own inaccuracies.

From a submission by Donnie Webb on the Post-Standard Football Blog:

Fired off a question Sunday to the ACC seeking comment from their director of football officials about the controversial non-call by the ACC officiating crew, you know, the protested illegal substitution by Virginia in the final 90 seconds of its 27-24 win over Syracuse on Saturday. The response?

"We generally do not comment on officiating matters (in football)," said ACC spokesman Brian Morrison.

I wrote back:

"The non-call came at a critical point of the game. I think you can understand that our community would like some acknowledgement if the ACC crew blew the call."

Said Morrison, "You will be the first to know, but maybe they didn’t blow the call."

There are three problems with Morrison's comments: a) the crew clearly blew the call; b) a conference should be accountable for their officiating crews, especially in inter-conference matchups; and c) the ACC has a history of commenting on officiating matters.

I do not know for certain what video capabilities the ACC currently has at their disposal, but I'm willing to bet that they have at least the same TiVo technology that the average Syracuse fan has. The ACC had plenty of opportunities to review the non-call between the conference call and the conclusion of Saturday's contest. To say that the crew didn't blow the call smacks of indifference or a pure refusal to acknowledge what their own eyes have seen.

As for accountability and commenting on officiating matters, Brian Morrison appears to be attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of the Syracuse community. As Donnie Webb illustrates in another terrific Syracuse Post-Standard Football Blog entry, the ACC has both eschewed their accountability responsibilities in the past and has commented on the conference's officials:

It seems ACC referee Jack Childress, who stood and watched the incident without
flagging the Cavaliers, has been in hot water before.

Scott Barker passed along this little infamous incident involving Childress:
Check here: Florida-Florida State.

Childress and his crew were also involved in a controversial fumble call in the Auburn-Wisconsin Music City Bowl. Writes Matt Hayes of The Sporting News:
"The ACC office privately believed that Florida's complaining about the officiating after its loss last month to Florida State were evidence of a team looking for an excuse. But now that ACC referee Jack Childress and back judge Doug Foley were involved in a key missed fumble call in the Auburn-Wisconsin Music City Bowl, Commissioner John Swofford must evaluate those officials more carefully. Look for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to ask Swofford to review the game tape."

And from The (Madison, Wisc.) Capital Times:
"After last season's Music City Bowl, both coaches - Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez and Auburn's Tommy Tuberville - were upset with the ACC officiating crew, which was headed by referee Jack Childress. Television replays confirmed a number of blown calls, including one which overturned a fumble by Auburn running back Carnell Williams inside the UW 5-yard line. The Tigers scored two plays later to take a 14-6 lead."

Scott Barker writes: It is interesting that ACC commissioner John Swofford commented in that case, so their statement that they don't comment on
officiating matters isn't accurate.

This raises two important issues: a) why is the ACC adamantly choosing not to comment on the terrible performance Childress and his crew turned in on Saturday when they have in the past; and b) why is the ACC still permitting Childress and his crew to butcher their responsibilities on the football field.

There need to be repercussions and accountability coming out of this incident, and when the above to issues are resolved, the latter two goals can be achieved.

This state of affairs can no longer persist. It is unacceptable.

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