Contrary to what you may have read or heard, the Atlantic Coast Conference has not censured popular and widely respected broadcasters Jim Thacker and Billy Packer for critizing officials during telecasts of conference basketball games. Nor has the ACC threatened to cauterize their tongues with hot coals if they do it again.
An Associated Press story out of Raleigh, N.C., early this week intimated consternation within the ACC over commentary that called attention to whistles that tooted when they shouldn't have, or didn't toot when they should have, as revealed by instant replays.
Conference Commissioner Bob James was quoted as labeling such comments "uncalled for" and "inappropriate." Shades of the National Football League's "blushing zebra" controversies of last season, when several critical, obviously blown calls were exposed coast to coast.
The AP story received wide esposure along the East Coast, showing up under headlines such as "ACC Muzzles Announcers" (Hampton, Va.) and "Broadcast Candor Displeases ACC's James" (Richmond). Thacker and Packer were startled. But the storm appears to be a classic tempest in a teapot, as ACC spokesmen insist no "gag rule" was ever contemplated.
"I think Mr. James was quoted out of context . . . It was all just a misunderstanding that's been blown at of proportion," said Castleman D. Chesley, executive producer of ACC basketball telecasts on his independent network of 21 stations in seven states and the District of Columbia.
Chesley discussed the matter with James and members of the ACC Television Committee at the conference's regular meetings Wednesday in Greensburg, N.C., and said the matter has been laid to rest.
James was unavailable for comment yesterday, but Marvin (Skeeter) Francis, assistant commissioner, agreed with Chesley's assessment.
Jame's main concern, Francis said, was not comments critical of officials, but rather Packer's tendency to be "a little too technical about some things, to get too much into coaching on the air." But this was intended to be mild, construction criticism, he added. "He (James) wasn't ranting and raving and climbing the walls or anyhting like that," Francis said.
Packer, 37, a star guard at Wake Forest and an assistant coach there for four years has been widely acclaimed for his knowledge of the game and incisive analysis. Marquette University's former coach, Al McGuire, recently called the South Carolina real estate salesman "the best analyst in the country, college or pro."
Packer's work for four years on the ACC telecasts landed him a position as "color man" on national telecasts of NCAA games. His NBC-TV broadcast partner, Dick Stockton, has lauded Packer as "the best there is," and many fans agree.
"He understands and is enthusiastic about the game of basketball and can relate it to the broadcast audience," Stockton said.
At to the sensitive issued of accountability of a conference, Chesley said that the ACC has never interfered editorially with his telecasts, nor brought any pressure to bear to hace announcers voice a "party line" or to go easy on officials.
"I talk with my announcers and tell them to call the game to the best of their ability, straight down the middle," said Chesley, who has produced ACC basketball telecasts for 21 years. This year his C.D. Chesley Co. is televising 31 ACC games live to a network of 19 stations in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., plus some North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Washington D.C., plus some cable systems elsewhere in the South and West.
"I ralise that a videotape slo-mo replay is to our advantage, and we cannot misuse that to make the officials look bad." Chesley continued.
"What the TV viewer sees and the crowd at the game sees is entirely different, because the crowd doesn't see the replay. I don't want a big hassle made out of whether there was a foul or no foul.I want the viewer to judge for himself."
Thacker, the sports director at WBTV in Charlotte who is in his 13th season as ACC play-by-play man for Chesley, said he is surprised that the recent flap has gotted so much attention. "Billy and I are doing the same things we've been doing for five years, and nobody has ever made anything of it," he said. "I think we're doing the right thing.
"We haven't been attacking officials or even looking to second-guess them. That's not our purpose. Our philosophy is to stay away from commenting about the officials and call the game."
But when it is obvious from a replay that a call has been muffed, he says, he feels he has a journalistic obligation to point out the fact. "If I think it is obvious to the viewer, then I think I'm dishonest if I don't note it," Thacker said. "That's the only thing I would try to prevent. I don't want the viewer thinking we're being dishonest with him.
"I've seen a few football games where it was obvious to everybody that an official blew a call, and the announcers would hem and haw and wouldn't admit it. I thought they looked weak in that instance, and I don't want to look that way," Thacker added.