Eye of the beholder

"Turn left onto Good Intentions Road."

After all the bad publicity the SEC endured last year as a result of Mark Curles’ crew, it amazes me somewhat that the NCAA is willing to double down on punishing subjective behavior in a football game.  And make no mistake about it, that’s the real problem with making the taunting penalty a live ball foul.

… The NCAA rule book tries to be specific on the matter of taunting, and most of the examples offered hardly require interpretation.

Players can’t use “threatening or obscene language or gestures,” such as “imitating the slashing of a throat.” They can’t stand over a fallen opponent and beat their chest. They can’t point any part of their anatomy or the ball itself at an opponent. Going into the stands is definitely verboten. So is pretending to fire a weapon, and even cupping a hand around the ear, as in the “I-can’t-hear-you” pantomime.

But just about everything else falls into a gray area.

Players can get whistled for “obviously altering stride,” a penalty previously called only on “Dancing with the Stars.” And how about “bowing at the waist after a good play”?

Asking referees to pass judgment on what constitutes taunting from a group that’s quite different generationally and culturally puts the officials in a tough spot.  And that’s what’s really going on here.  The refs are being asked to impose the world view of people like Indiana head coach Bill Lynch.

… Lynch called taunting an area that needed to be cleaned up and said he supported taking away scores.

“Just run it into the end zone, how hard is that?” he said after a spring practice. “It is a team game and that’s what makes it such a great game.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Lynch is certainly entitled to his aesthetic opinion of the sport.  But I’m hard pressed to see how that necessarily equates to what I thought was the real purpose of preventing taunting, which is to prevent bad blood on the field from escalating an emotion-laden game into something… well, like this:

In other words, if the kids aren’t offended, how much should it matter that the refs are?

And that’s not the only problem I see here.  Mack Brown puts his finger on something else that’s inevitable when you make this a judgment call.

“I am most concerned about the taunting rule,” Brown said. “I don’t disagree with it, but I am worried about the consistency in how the rule is interpreted, especially when it can cost a team a touchdown. It can be looked at so differently by the various officiating groups around the country and a call would have such a major impact on games that in fairness, it’s crucial that it is called the same way for everyone.”

Ponder that as you remember that this is Verle Sorgen’s world and the Pac-10 is just living in it.

And don’t think these guys don’t know that problems with this rule are inevitable.  Here’s a sample of some thoughts on that:

… Say some mammoth defensive lineman causes a fumble, then bends over to catch his breath even as the teammate who scooped up the loose ball is running it back for a score? Fair or foul?

“That’s a good one,” Teaff said. “I imagine it’s one of those cases where the refs may have to go back and take another look.”

… Parry said the decision to implement the rule in 2011 gives players and coaches ample advance warning.

“This gives the players a year’s notice that we’re going to be tougher on sportsmanship. Last year it was mentioned that this could become a possibility,” Parry said.

He also predicted the penalty would be called “very rarely.”

“If it’s close to diving into the end zone, most likely it would be ruled that the act ended while in the end zone. We’ll be lenient,” Parry said. “It’s really if it’s really bad, for example, if a guy flips the bird at the 10 or high-steps backwards into the end zone or starts a forward roll at the 3-yard line.”

… Wait until some overzealous ref decides some player slowed down too much, stepped too high, pranced too merrily, looked back over his shoulder too long or launched himself too early into the end zone – and then calls taunting in the final seconds of a game on a hot, boozy afternoon with first place on the line in the SEC. Better yet, he needs a replay to make the determination.

No doubt coaches, players and especially fans will take it all in stride – on their way to storming the field.

“Nothing’s perfect,” said Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. “I’m sure something, or some situation will come up down the road that’s going to cause a lot of people some consternation. And when that happens, we’ll look at the rule and decide if it needs adjusting…”

Here’s a novel thought:  why not get it right in the first place?  Why not start by limiting the rule to penalize specifically designated acts, with no gray areas for the referees to impose their subjectivity?

*******************************************************************

UPDATE: Shorter Tony Barnhart:  Don’t give me any of that Emerson nonsense, the NCAA got it right.

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29 Comments

Filed under The NCAA

29 responses to “Eye of the beholder

  1. Andy

    There are clearly 10x more black football players than white, so it would make sense that the vast majority of unsportsmanlike penalties are called on them. However, how does a kid like Orson last year get called for unsportsmanlike for pointing to the crowd, while the GPOOE does Angels in the Outfield like arm waving after nearly every play? Must be because one is a “thug” and the other is a “tremendous leader”….

  2. Hogbody Spradlin

    Like that photo. You add the bratwurst thing?

    We can thank the Miami Hurricanes for the current taunting problem. Through the 80’s they were the rarity. Then, like the ubiquitous four fingers at the beginning of the 4th quarter, everybody started doing it.

    The NCAA seems to want to go back to: player scores touchdown then blandly tosses ball to official. That ain’t gonna happen in today’s world, and I think it would make the game poorer. It’s possible for players to show some excitement without becoming Miami.

    The thing that worries me as much or more than the blandness is the officials. You get some Barney Fife type who wants to show that he can make the BIG call, you could have a big problem in a stadium containing 80,000 half empty Bourbon bottles and 90,000 half drunk spectators.

  3. Richard

    Football needs fewer, not more, rules. The subjectivity of it is scary. Almost like the rule was written in Vegas.

  4. Chuck

    The rule is not a Vegas-type rule. It is clearly the work of Dean Wormer and his band of Nazi youth at Faber College. We are all going to be on double-secret probation. :(

  5. Macallanlover

    For once Mack is right, the rule is a good one but many of the interpretations we have seen show officials need some training. You don’t have to take the joy and emotion out of CFB with this rule, just stop the solo and thug actions.

    I think it would help to separate taunting from celebrations. Taunting and solo showboating should be a 15 yard Unsportsmanlike penalty, no questions asked. Unorchestrated celebrations with teammmates should be penalized as a 5 yard Delay of Game, if they indeed delay the game by not being prepared to put the ball in play on time.

  6. NCT

    And what of acknowledging the fans? Or taunting opponents’ fans?

  7. The Realist

    I, personally, am all for the Miami showboating & taunting. Football is an emotionally-charged sport that testosterone-driven young men are playing. I want them to have fun, and, if necessary, intimidate the opponent. Getting in an opponent’s head is icing on the cake. Celebrate. Dance. Taunt in a non-violent manner (no throat-slashing or shotgun blasts). Just enjoy playing the game while you still can (No Fun League).

    That being said, I know I’m in the minority on this issue. Most people think football should be played like golf where you acknowledge the crowd’s clapping by raising a hand and move on to the next hole. Meanwhile, 90,000 fans are going bonkers in the stadium, but the players are just supposed to raise a hand and calmly walk on to the sideline to avoid an unsportsmanlike penalty.

    It’s infuriating to know that the call often wasn’t made correctly when it was a dead ball foul. Now, they’ve upped the ante by making it a live ball foul. As if the refs needed more ability to impact the outcome of the game. Pssh.

    • If they’re going to penalize the players for taunting, why don’t they penalize the coaches when they pull some bush league, run-up-the-score move? The level of sportsmanship seems pretty equivalent to me.

      • The Realist

        If the purpose of the rule is to prevent a fracas from breaking out on the field, running up the score is more likely to ignite bad feelings than someone flipping into the end zone.

        Actually, I’ve never seen a fight break out because someone flipped into the end zone. So, what is the purpose of this rule again?

    • dean

      I agree with letting the players celebrate and enjoy the game. However I don’t agree with intimidating/taunting the opponent. Openly taunting other players will only lead to more brawls.

  8. hailtogeorgia

    I love the last quote by Teaff. He’s basically saying “When something happens that pisses a lot of people off and we catch a tremendous amount of flack about (which surely will happen…/chortle/), then we’ll look at it. Until then, you’ll get nothing and like it!”

    • DawgPhan

      The Golden Tate play that was reviewed on College Football Live yesterday was a cut and dry penalty for the head ref and it couldnt have been less of a penalty for me and most people watching. And while I dont remember the exactly play from last season it didnt appear that the play was flagged last season, next season it will be a live ball TD revoking flag. How does that make sense?

      • 69Dawg

        Aw like the SEC is going to call it on the Mighty Gayturds. Spikes dry humps Knowson in 2008 then does the same thing to Ealey in 2009 and it’s a no call. We will be screwed early and often by MC Hammer (Curles Crew) and Pennhead Wage’s crew. If I was a ref I would just remember they have to get out of the stadium alive.

        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          I do not advocate violence. That said, 69Dawg is right. Sometimes fear is a good thing if it keeps assholes from abusing their power. Maybe when a ref makes a call that is so absolutely, obviously wrong that nobody with an open mind could possibly have called it, that guy needs to have a can of whip-ass opened up on him. I have been vocal on this blog regarding my belief that the UGA-LSU game last year was fixed. I also believe that the entire crew that worked the game was in on it due to the circumstances surrounding the call being made. There was never a flag thrown. UGA had a 1 point lead. The game was near the end and UGA would have won if time ran out. It was a toss-up game so the outcome of bets rode on who actually won the game rather than point spread. The refs had a meeting at midfield and would not let anyone else hear what was said. They plotted the celebration penalty as a way to allow LSU to start at or near midfield believing that LSU would probably get it to field goal range and win with a kick at the end (that LSU scored a TD only helped obscure what the refs did). This was not done because the refs liked LSU or disliked UGA. What they did was too dangerous for a minor motive like that. After all, they were committing a felony. This was done for money. I don’t know if the refs were betting on the game themselves or if they were paid off. All you have to do is watch it closely and you can see what was going on, though. Of course, all of this is just my opinion and I have no proof. I wish I did .

  9. dboy

    What would happen if AJ was eating a bratwurst as he entered the endzone?

  10. D.N. Nation

    Over/under on Georgia TDs called back in 2011 because of this horse hockey rule.

    I say 3.

  11. dboy

    What would happen if AJ was eating a bratwurst as he entered the endzone and Murray was playing horse hockey, simultaneously?

  12. daryl

    does anyone have the head of the ncaa’s phone number or email address. i sure think some fan input is in order…

  13. Irishdawg

    “If they’re going to penalize the players for taunting, why don’t they penalize the coaches when they pull some bush league, run-up-the-score move?”

    That’s an excellent point. I say Pete Carroll’s last second bomb against UCLA or Meyer’s pointless timouts would both qualify. What’s the ref going to do?

    This is an incredibly arbitrary rule that gives petty, king-shit pricks like Penn Wagers free reign to screw a team of his choosing.

    • Macallanlover

      I fully understand your point about running up the score in the 4th Qtr., but in fairness to Carroll, he was running the clock out and UCLA was continuing to call time outs. If it was going to be a “cease fire” from the victors, Neuheisal seems obligated to lay his guns down as well.

      Let’s say UCLA was successful in making USC punt and a Trojan player was hurt punting the ball or running down to cover the kick. Or defensive back pulls a hammy covering Hail Mary passes. Pretty sucky if you are USC and you just let them force your defense back onto the field in a meaningless display of bravado when a game is clearly out of reach.

      I hate coaches who keep piling it on when the game is over rather than giving playing time to subs who work their butts off in practice, but I don’t think the USC/UCLA is your best example.

  14. Dawg19

    “The rule goes into effect in 2011, College Players…so get it out of your system this year!! WooHoo!!”

    How many guys are going to taunt, pre-celebrate, and act like complete jackassess after a big play this year, knowing there’s no real punishment yet?

  15. Chuck

    I hated the concept this morning when I first read the post, and after thinking about it in between work and listening to Cowherd, I hate it even more. Not because it is not a nice idea – I don’t like taunting any more than anyone else – but it is inherently unenforceable on a fair basis. The call is horribly subjective – I still don’t know what AJ did in the LSU game (and neither does the SEC office) so how can it be fairly called across a spectrum of 55 games a week?

    In addition, the penalty exceeds the offense. Whatever AJ may have done would take away a TD for it? Ever?

    One thing that someone brought up that may eventually scuttle the whole thing: betting lines. Say what you will, but if officials calls nullify TDs and it starts affecting the $$$ bookies can make you can expect some push back. That actually had not occurred to me this morning, and the NCAA would never admit to being swayed by that as a factor, but the roads down which this rule will lead are not good for football, the NCAA, the fans, and I have to think that the committee members will rethink this.

  16. Vious

    Everyone on ESPN is even jumping on how idiotic this is….a major team WILL lose a game b/c of this…just watch

    A team scores a long run/pass with 30 seconds left and it gets called back b/c the player looked back or maybe did something small

    What a joke

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      What bothers me is the potential for abuse. If you want to change the outcome of a game this gives an easy way to do it.

      • Walker07

        Psh, refs only fix games in sports where there are playoffs. That’s why this rule isn’t a problem in Div-1 football!

  17. dawgfan17

    I hate taunting and show boating, love to see teams celebrate together after a big play/score etc. This rule seems to be to be an open invitation to the refs having a bigger part in deciding the outcome of a game than ever before. It will be awful to watch when a team that deserves to win gets screwed by this rule.

  18. bort

    Yeah, Bill Lynch is a good example of how to react like a gentleman.