tampabay.com

Conference checks its game officials

A couple of years ago, ACC commissioner John Swofford figured it would be a prudent step to do background checks on football and men's and women's basketball officials.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published July 25, 2007


PINEHURST, N.C. - A couple of years ago, ACC commissioner John Swofford figured it would be a prudent step to do background checks on football and men's and women's basketball officials.

"There wasn't anything we saw that concerned us," he said Tuesday morning as he wrapped up three days of ACC football media sessions. "It was simply the fact that this issue of gambling is so prevalent throughout our society."

And in sports, gambling can lead to scandals.

A couple years later, Swofford and the ACC look prescient.

The NBA is now embroiled in a scandal in which a former referee, Bradenton's Tim Donaghy, is being investigated by the FBI for allegedly betting on league games, including ones he worked. Donaghy's name surfaced in a separate organized crime case. His father, Gerald, was a respected basketball official who worked in the ACC.

"The allegations ... are very, very serious in anybody's mind who sits in the chair I sit in," Swofford said. "It hits at the very integrity of the games that are played. You can absolutely never, ever lose that integrity."

So, the ACC - which like other leagues, individual schools and the NCAA, had invested significant energies into educating the student-athletes about the pitfalls of gambling over the years - began to reach to another group last year.

All 225 officials 75 each in football and men's and women's basketball had to sign an agreement to the background check; if they refused, they were automatically ruled out as a possible ACC official. The check includes criminal records at the local, state and federal levels (felonies sound an alarm), credit reports (unusual debts are suspicious), driving records and questions about gambling and any connections to gamblers.

"We've had a few situations we have looked into (further)," said Shane Lyons, the ACC associate commissioner for governance and compliance. "But at this point, we haven't gotten to the point where we have not allowed an official to be associated with the league."

Any first-time league official must go through the check, and then he or she is checked again once every four years. The official also must fill out the background check form annually and update any information. There are also random checks.

"Some things you're never going to be able to find out, but at least there's enough indicators and flags that if you do your due diligence ... hopefully you will detect (most)," said Doug Rhoads, a former longtime ACC football official who's in his first year as the league's coordinator of football officiating.

Rhoads, incidentally, also spent a quarter of a century as a special agent for the FBI, during which he investigated gamblers and racketeers.

Each check costs about $135 for an annual expense of $10,000 to $12,000. Swofford, who's aware of only one other league to do checks (the Big Ten, which uses computers, not a security firm like the ACC), said it's money - and a surprisingly small amount - that's well spent.

"You sure get a lot for your money," he said. "I'm glad we're doing it. It is not a catch-all, end-all, by any means, but I think it does show a proactive way of looking at this and hopefully raises some red flags if there are any to be raised."