By Dan Shanoff
Page 2

Although many fans went absolutely nuts over the officiating in Super Bowl XL, a far more egregious -- and epidemic -- officiating problem has emerged in sports:

The "Duke Effect."

Duke always seems to get the calls, and you'd have to be blinded by Dukie loyalty to argue otherwise.

Either the Blue Devils get away with more contact while playing defense or they earn ticky-tack foul calls while on offense.

But it's not just the foul differential; it's all the calls Duke gets at critical late-game moments, to the point that fans now expect Duke will get the call.

However it happens, the opponents -- and college basketball fans -- get screwed.

Duke defenders will argue that Duke earns the differential in foul calls by playing great "position" defense and "knowing how to draw fouls."

I know the real reason how: by putting on that jersey.

Where does the bias come from? Certainly, winning helps. Being the shining star of college basketball helps. Having a coach who plays the refs like Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello helps. And having the most intimidating home court in sports helps.

(Although the Devils get the calls on the road, too; see last week's one-point win at Boston College, in which they held a 37-13 free-throw advantage.)

On Monday, the ACC officiating crew that worked Saturday's controversial Duke-Florida State game at Cameron (a close Duke win, natch) were suspended, ostensibly for an errant technical foul called on FSU.

However, a quick scan of the box score shows the officials just as easily could have been busted for that 43-11 free-throw advantage they gave the Blue Devils. They made the Super Bowl XL refs look competent.

What to do about it? I'm waiting for an enterprising ACC rival to do what Mark Cuban did with NBA referees: set up a monitoring system to track refs' performance statistically, to prove, once and for all, that there's a problem. It's not to show up the refs; it's to make them more effective. Only then can we begin to correct the problem -- both in reality and in perception.

Duke haters are well aware of the trend. There's a clever fake news release floating around on anti-Duke/pro-UNC online messageboards. Here's how it begins:

"Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford announced today that a foul is tentatively scheduled to be called against Duke sometime in the first half of their game with UNC in Chapel Hill, next Tuesday, February 7th ..."

Later in the piece, it adds this: "[ACC Director of Officials John] Clougherty also said not to expect any more fouls to be called against Duke this season, but did not rule out the possibility of another one being called in an exhibition game in November 2006."

Maybe it is more perception than reality: Despite the 80-24 free-throw advantage Duke has had over its last two games, in its eight other games in 2006, the team has had only a 161-149 free-throw advantage.

But it is that perception -- fueled by particularly galling games such as the past two -- that riles up the Duke haters. Maybe fans wouldn't be as outraged if it seemed as though calls went more evenly.

You'd think the Duke players themselves would want to erase the whiff that increasingly follows their wins and taints their accomplishments:

Oh, sure, Duke won, but if they didn't get all the calls ...

Dan Shanoff is a columnist for Page 2. His "Daily Quickie" commentary appears every weekday morning.