|The moment of truth: Who in blue is offsides?|
So I don't doubt the integrity or judgment of the linesman who made the critical call in Saturday night's ACC championship game—a phantom offsides call on an onside kick that essentially robbed North Carolina of a chance to beat Clemson.
But I do question the awkward spot his bosses put him in. Because if I read the rules right, the Atlantic Coast Conference essentially had a $6 million bet riding on Clemson.
That's what the ACC earns for having a team in the College Football Playoff. If 10th-ranked North Carolina had won the ACC championship game, it probably would not have qualified for the four-team playoff. But No. 1-ranked Clemson was a cinch to make it. Therefore, it was in the ACC's financial interest for Clemson to win.
If North Carolina had won, the ACC's $6 million slice of the pie probably would have gone to the PAC-12 or Big Ten.
That's about $400,000* per school, which is not a lot in terms of the millions that flow through college football nowadays.
But it is unseemly for the ACC to have a financial interest in which team wins its championship.
In fact, it has been in the ACC's interest to protect Clemson throughout November, ever since the Tigers beat Florida State and asserted themselves as the nation's No. 1 team. The same thing was true last year for the Seminoles. And the ACC is not alone in this. It is equally true in other conferences. The SEC needed Alabama to beat Florida. The PAC-12 needed Stanford to beat Southern Cal.
Clemson fans and the ABC crowd (Anybody But Carolina) will see further irony in this. Many of them believe the ACC protects UNC. The Tar Heels play in a division where they rarely have to face Clemson or Florida State. Chapel Hill has hardly been punished for decades of academic scandal.
If that's your perspective, then Saturday night was your justice.
Was justice done? I have to believe the linesman honestly thought he saw an infraction on North Carolina's last-minute onside kick even though it was not evident on TV replays. I can't believe anyone from the ACC would have dictated that call go in Clemson's favor. (Lest we forget, the official threw his flag at the start of the play, before he knew if the penalty would help Clemson.) I look forward to hearing from a reporter who actually seeks out that official so we can hear his side of the story.
I'll bet $6 million that's he's more impartial than you or me.
* Always follow the money
Speaking of $400,000, that's the going price that North Carolina paid little Delaware and littler N.C. A&T to come to Chapel Hill for games back in September—worthless victories and wasted weekends that ruined the Tar Heels' playoff resume.
If the Tar Heels had just been willing to play Appalachian State (like Clemson did), and if they had beaten South Carolina (like Clemson did), and if they had played anybody better than Miami (like Clemson did), they might have been taken seriously as a playoff contender. In that case—had UNC been awarded possession of the onside kick, tied the game, and gone on to beat Clemson in overtime—imagine the orange outcry we'd be hearing today.
Speaking of Appalachian, "we" joined Florida State, Notre Dame, and North Carolina as 10-win teams on Clemson's schedule. If you're keeping score, the Apps had more rushing yardage against Clemson than any of those Top 10 teams. When Mark Richt and Miami come to Boone next September, they better "bring their A game," if not their ACC officials.