The UNC Tar Heels recovered an onside kick in the waning moments of the ACC Championship game, but a controversial offside call negated the recovery and ended any chance they had to upset the number 1 ranked Clemson Tigers.
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How It Happened
UNC trailed for much of the second half, but after a quick touchdown score from quarterback Marquise Williams to Ryan Switzer, UNC cut the Clemson lead to 8.
With 1:13 to play, the Tar Heels appeared to recover an onside kick. Multiple replays showed the entire special teams unit was lined up correctly.
This was called offsides. pic.twitter.com/zIVqe8Ya3q— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) December 6, 2015
The Tar Heels were forced to kick again and it came with a different result. Clemson recovered and ran out the clock, claiming the ACC Championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Social Media Firestorm
Fans immediately took to social media to express their outrage, many using the hashtag #ACCRefs.
Boy. UNC just got screwed. What a joke of a call by that official. Complete game changer. Wow #ACCRefs— Dan Silverman (@dsilverman95) December 6, 2015
UNC head coach Larry Fedora also didn't agree with the call. "They were wrong. That's all I'm going to say about it. They were wrong... they missed it," he told reporters after the game.
The ACC Responds
In a statement, the ACC said the play is not reviewable.
"The rule as it relates to an onside kick is that the 35-yard line is treated as a plane and if any part of a player breaks that plane before the ball is kicked it's offisdes. The officials saw a member of the kicking team break the plane before the ball was kicked."
How Is It Not Reviewable?
Mike Greenberg of ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" said the fact the play is not reviewable is "outrageous."
"Instead of possibly playing for a National Championship, they are now playing in the Russell Athletic Bowl!" Greenberg said on his show.
The Co$t Of The Call
UNC is now in Orlando to play in the Russel Athletic Bowl which has a payout of approximately $2.275 million, nearly $4 million less than a berth in the College Football Playoff, according to CollegeFootballPlayoff.com.
While instant reaction from fans on social media indicated the Tar Heels lost millions on the call, an analysis of the ACC rules and bowl payout structure reveals otherwise.
Had UNC won the game, Clemson almost certainly would've been out of the College Football Playoff, and insiders say it was highly unlikely the Tar Heels would've gotten in.
So what would've happened? Both Clemson and North Carolina likely would've appeared in $4 million bowl games, a theoretical net loss of $275,000 for the conference.
The ACC collects and evenly distributes all bowl money. Through the 2015 season, the ACC is on schedule to collect more than $73 million from those games, before team expenses.
The actual amount The ACC will collect is far less. The payouts include a "travel allowance" for each team which is deducted from the final payout. For the Tar Heels that expense is expected to be $1.175 million, according to UNC Senior Associate Director of Athletics for Business, Martina Ballen.
In the end, no one knows if the Tar Heels would've even scored and converted a 2-point play to tie the game. What is known, the offside call had no financial impact on UNC or the ACC. The bowl money is also only a small part of athletic budgets. Ballen says, "money distributed through the ACC from the college football playoff and non-CFP bowls make up 5 percent of our total revenue."
No. 10 UNC (11-2) takes on No. 17 Baylor (9-3) 5:30 p.m. on ESPN