Before the start of the basketball season, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southwest Conference reached an agreement to swap officials for weekend games. Each Saturday, two SWC officials would join an ACC official at ACC games. The numbers were reversed in the SWC.

The reason for the experiment was familiarity. ACC referees had become so familiar to coaches and fans that everyone knew their names, their faces, their strengths and their weaknesses. Familiarity often breeds contempt, especially in the ACC. Thus, the experiment.

It has failed. The reason? The SWC officials, in the opinion of most, aren't nearly as competent as ACC officials. "They've been bad," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. "The whole concept hasn't worked for that reason. We need to get our own guys back working our own games. And, we need to take care of them."

The last part of the statement may be the most important. Many ACC officials, miffed because they feel constantly maligned, have stopped working league games. Hank Nichols, generally considered one of the country's best officials, has two ACC games this year. John Moreau, another top referee, has only a handful of games.

In view of the performance of Denny Bishop of the SWC in the Duke-Maryland game Saturday, it would seem Krzyzewski and other coaches who had privately expressed the same opinion are correct.

Bishop was awful. He blew a goaltending goal on Maryland's Charles Pittman in the first half, then hit Krzyzewski with a quick technical when he protested. He whistled Ernest Graham's fifth foul on what looked like a clean block.

By the end of the game, ACC official Joe Forte was doing his best to cover the Bishop. Forte once ran across the court to make an out-of-bounds ruling because Bishop, standing right on the play, looked confused and about to make a guess.

What's more, the experiment is costing much more in travel expenses than the old method, because the officials must travel so much farther.

You can't knock the ACC for experimenting in an effort to improve its officiating. But this experiment has failed. The sooner it ends, the better