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ACC makes changes in hopes of preventing another officiating gaffe

The calls to reform instant replay in college football reached a crescendo last season after ACC officials botched the end of the Miami-Duke game, now notorious among officiating debacles.

The on-field officiating crew, replay official and communicator were suspended. Duke coach David Cutcliffe said in the immediate aftermath, “There were no appropriate words for what had happened.”

Unfortunately, that game was not the first to be decided outside the lines. It was simply the latest. A week later, Big Ten replay officials came under fire for the way they handled the game-winning touchdown in Nebraska's win over Michigan State. The Big Ten stood behind its officials.

Clearly problems with replay officiating are not unique to the ACC, but the league decided it needed to do something to address the issues. To that end, the league announced Tuesday that Ted Jackson would become its first assistant coordinator for football replay -- the first such role among FBS conferences.

What exactly does that mean? And will it fix the problems?

Jackson’s primary task is to oversee all replay officials. That includes year-round training, development, evaluation and recruitment. He will watch games from the league’s game day operations center in Greensboro, N.C., with complete access to everything replay officials see.

But the move is not centralizing replay into the ACC office. Unlike the NFL, which does have centralized replay, college football works differently. Replay decisions are made by the officials at games with no oversight above them. Though some pundits have wondered whether centralized replay could be an eventuality in college football, the ACC never even discussed that option for its league.

So Jackson won’t be working with replay officials in real time to ensure they make the proper calls. An assistant coordinator for football replay won’t be able to fix another debacle the moment it happens.

No replay system is perfect, not even centralized replay. So the overriding hope is that more botched calls will be avoided in the future with better training, better education and a better apparatus in place to ensure replay officials are at the top of their game. That is where Jackson comes in. Under the old system, ACC coordinator of officials Dennis Hennigan oversaw all officials. Splitting on-field officials and replay officials into two separate groups will give them more time with their respective supervisors.

Jackson previously served as an ACC on-field official for 28 years, then spent 11 seasons as an ACC replay official, including this past season. So he brings experience and credibility to his new role.

"On a national level, instant replay continues to play a significant role within college football,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. “As a league, our officiating programs are of the highest priority and this move should help us continue to enhance the quality of this very important aspect of college football.”

Swofford announced the decision to the league’s athletic directors during their winter meetings in south Florida. There is no question something needed to be done to try to fix a system that has clear flaws. Whether a dedicated replay coordinator makes a marked difference certainly will be interesting to watch over the next several seasons.