Sunday, December 6, 2015

An in-stadium perspective of the botched offside call at the ACC Championship

ADDENDUM: An earlier version of this post suggested that the ACC was incorrect in stating that offside on a kickoff is not reviewable. The ACC was actually correct in stating that offside on a kickoff is not reviewable. NCAA Rule 12, Article 4(b) reads:

Article 4: Reviewable plays involving kicks include: (b) Player beyond the neutral zone when kicking the ball.

The correct interpretation is that only the kicker's position can be reviewed. This would only apply to punts since a kicker can never be offside.

Yesterday the Tar Heels were robbed of a chance to send the ACC Championship game into overtime when a referee threw a flag for a recovered onside kick offside that never happened. Carolina would have trailed by eight with the ball at midfield, all three timeouts remaining and 1:11 to go. Carolina didn't play well enough to deserve to win, but I still don't feel like we lost. For me, the game will always feel unfinished.

Everyone in the world now knows that not a single Tar Heel was anywhere close to being offside on the play. Video replay would not have been necessary to reverse the call; a simple still shot with kicker Freeman Jones's foot on the ball was more than sufficient to show that the Heels were too slow, not too fast, to the line. We can speculate as to why the official threw the initial flag, but the ensuing three minutes were far more interesting than the initial call.

The Carolina coaching staff knew the flag was a mistake because it had the benefit of watching up in the booth the same replays you saw on television. Carolina Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham quickly asked a sideline official if the offside call was reviewable, and the official assured him that it was. That sideline official was incorrect. NCAA Rule 12, Article 4(b) states that reviewable plays involving kicks include determining whether a player is beyond the neutral zone when kicking the ball. Since the player in question was not kicking the ball, the play was not reviewable. Accordingly none of the officials reviewed the play to overturn the on-field flag, and Carolina kicked a second time without retaining possession.

But the most curious thing about this error didn't hit me until I was driving home from the airport this morning. Bank of America Stadium has two new 56' x 199' video boards that allow all 75,412 fans to comfortably view instant replays. The video boards had served this purpose all game and would show Clemson recovering the second and final onside kick to secure the win just a couple minutes after the mistaken offside call. However, the video boards did not show the sufficient replay of the mistaken offside call that you saw on your television. What we saw in the stadium was incomplete. The aggrieved yelling that normally accompanies a botched call never happened in the stadium for the offside call. In fact, I knew of the error in the stadium only because my friend's wife texted him what she was seeing on her television at home. The magnitude of the error clouded our ability to recognize this diverted flow of information.

I could speculate as to why the ESPN and in-stadium replays were so different, but I'll let you do that instead while I stick to the facts. Oh, the facts. Here's another one.

Clemson fans outnumbered Carolina fans by a ratio of roughly 5:1. Carolina had ordered its 5500 allotted tickets and 2500 extra tickets, but 8000 tickets could neither satisfy Carolina fans' demand nor fill anywhere near half of a 75,000-seat stadium.

Clemson fared much better since they clinched a berth in the championship weeks before Carolina did and gobbled up the general public ticket allotment before Carolina had the chance. Carolina clinched later through no fault of their own since they were undefeated in conference play. The ACC could do more to ensure a more balanced championship atmosphere.

Clemson was guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff with an ACC Championship win, but Carolina had only a decent shot at the CFP with a win. I hope this difference figured into neither the botched call nor the ticket allotments.

Moving forward, I wish Clemson the very best in the College Football Playoff.


  1. I was thinking the exact same thing about the ticket sales. I was telling a friend that general admission tickets should be held until each division has it's winner. Charlotte was suppose to be a neutral site, but from the over-head view, it looked like a home game for Clemson. This likely did not affect how poorly UNC played, esp on offense. But both fan bases should have the same opportunity to support their team.

    Having said that, Clemson was just better. I hope that the coaching staff stays together (other than Littrell), and this is the beginning of something special for UNC football.

  2. Would have been nice to see them try to tie the game!