Luke DeCock: Bad news for ACC basketball: One of the sport’s best referees is hanging up his whistle

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One of the top college basketball officials in the country is leaving the ACC, and he leaves a void not easily filled. Three years after he reached the pinnacle of his career by refereeing the national championship game between North Carolina and Gonzaga, Mike Eades is hanging up his whistle to become officiating supervisor for the Southeastern Conference.

“Mike Eades gets replaced with a staff,” ACC supervisor Bryan Kersey said Tuesday. “He doesn’t get replaced by one person.”

Kersey knows all too well what that’s like. When he retired as an official to take the ACC job in 2016, he immediately had to replace one of the conference’s best referees: himself. Eades, who has worked three Final Fours and six ACC title games, is still at the top of the game, as Kersey was, coming off a Final Four.

“The first time I saw him referee, at Madison Square Garden, I thought he was 6-foot-5, because of his court presence,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said.

Besides Eades, four other ACC officials have received Final Four assignments in the past four years: Roger Ayers, Brian Dorsey, Ron Groover and Ted Valentine. When the ACC produced an online behind-the-scenes series about basketball officials this past season, it focused on Ayers, Eades and Smith.

“I believe Mike Eades is in a group of five of the best referees in the country,” said former ACC supervisor John Clougherty, a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. “He could be as good as anybody. I don’t know everybody, but of the ones that I know and the ones that I watch in the NCAA tournament, Mike Eades is definitely in an elite group, the top five.”

With Eades’ departure and as longtime officials like Jamie Luckie approach retirement, a changing of the guard is inevitable. Kersey has been planning for that, grooming younger officials like Groover, Bert Smith, A.J. Desai and Bill Covington, Jr., for expanded roles the same way Clougherty helped develop Ayers and Eades early in their careers.

At the same time, the pool of available officials has expanded thanks to the ACC’s consortium with the Big East, which increased cross-pollination between those conferences as well as the many smaller leagues involved, including the Atlantic 10 and Big South. (While officials are independent contractors, they’re primarily affiliated with one conference and work that conference’s tournament, but often work in several other conferences.)

“It’s always evolutionary,” ACC senior associate commissioner for basketball Paul Brazeau said. “Whether it’s coaches retiring, officials retiring, you’ve got to train, you’ve got to recruit, you’ve got to develop, you’ve got to get experience. That’s a never-ending cycle. We’re thrilled for Mike.”

News & Observer sports columnist Luke DeCock and longtime NCAA referee John Clougherty discuss the complex and controversial world of officiating on The Whistleblowers, an N&O podcast.

In a way, Eades is following in the footsteps of his mentor Clougherty, but in reverse. Clougherty, a longtime Raleigh resident, refereed in the Big East for most of his career before becoming supervisor for the ACC in 2005. A native and resident of Princeton, W.V., where he works with at-risk youth, and a member of the Lees-McRae Athletic Hall of Fame, Eades has spent the vast majority of his on-court career in the ACC and Big Ten, but will now supervise officials in the SEC, where he has worked only four conference games over the past five seasons.

That wasn’t an issue for the SEC, Sankey said.

“This was someone whose level of respect nationally is really what guided us to him,” Sankey said.

Eades, whose son Anthony is an up-and-coming official, will also oversee the AAC, Sun Belt and Atlantic Sun. Like many officials, Eades has already been supervising smaller conferences — a Division II conference and an NAIA conference — in his spare time while officiating Division I games, but being the supervisor of a Power 5 conference is more than a full-time job.

Eades has been used to dealing with Hall of Fame coaches like Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim from moment to moment on the sidelines; now he’s going to have to deal with John Calipari, Bruce Pearl and Tom Crean at all hours of the day and night.

Kersey said there’s one lesson Eades will only learn by experience.

“How to get less sleep,” Kersey said, laughing.


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