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ACC performing background checks on game officials

PINEHURST, N.C. - The Atlantic Coast Conference has performed background checks for the past year on game officials in three sports in an effort to prevent gambling scandals like the one faced by the NBA, commissioner John Swofford said Tuesday.

During his annual wide-ranging news conference, Swofford also said the league would decide in December where to host its football championship games in

2008-10 and discussed how his conference is preparing for another two-year term coordinating Bowl Championship Series operations beginning in January.

But clearly the dominant issue was the background checks, which Swofford said were approved by university presidents two years ago and began last year on officials in football and men's and women's basketball.

'It's not a catch-all, end-all by any means, but it does show a proactive way of looking at this and hopefully raising red flags if there are any to be raised,' Swofford said.

About 75 of the roughly 225 officials in those sports will be investigated each year, and every official's background will be checked once in a four-year period, said Shane Lyons, the league's associate commissioner for compliance.

Swofford said the ACC and Big Ten are the only conferences to implement the checks, which cost $135 apiece.

The ACC-ordered probes, performed by an independent agency, include an investigation into any ties to gambling on sports, officials' credit histories and criminal and driving records at the local, state and federal levels. The NCAA performs similar checks on officials working its basketball tournaments and bowl games, he said.

None of the officials investigated showed any warning signs that might have led to a removal from officiating games, Lyons said.

'There wasn't anything that we saw that concerned us, that stimulated our belief that we should take this route,' Swofford said. 'But this whole issue of gambling is so prevalent in our society. ... We just simply want to do everything we can proactively to have that kind of integrity in our officials as well as our student-athletes.'

He said the ACC's hope is to avoid the alleged point-shaving scandal faced by the NBA.

Former referee Tim Donaghy is under federal investigation for allegedly betting on games he officiated. Authorities are examining whether Donaghy made calls to affect the point spread in games on which he or associates had wagered thousands of dollars over the past two seasons.

The ACC 'tried to educate (athletes) to stay away from any type of gambling activities,' Lyons said. 'With that, we talked about the officials as the next step to protect the integrity of the game.'

Swofford also said four cities - Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando in Florida, and Charlotte - have applied to host the league's title game in football for the three-year period beginning in 2008. The league could award the game to one city for a three-year block, or it could rotate it among multiple locations.

'It gives you an opportunity to see those different cities and how they would do hosting the game, because if you're not there, you're guessing,' Swofford said. 'The other side of that is that you're not giving one locale the opportunity to develop the game there locally. ... We need to find out what's right for the ACC.'

Swofford also said he is preparing for his league's second turn in charge of the BCS from Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive. Two critical issues he will face are its television contracts and the format in which it decides a national champion, he said.

Fox is entering the second year of a four-year deal for the broadcast rights to the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls until 2010 and the national title game until 2009. The Rose Bowl has its own TV deal with ABC, a contract that runs through 2014.

'I think it's become very obvious that we're not going to be to the point of having a full-blown playoff after the current BCS ends,' said Swofford, who coordinated the BCS in 2000 and 2001. 'I think what we're looking at is some form of a plus-one or the same format that we have at this point in time.

'Compared to the last time we went around, I think there's much more open-mindedness, not only around our league, but nationally, about the possibility' of a plus-one, he said.