Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bad Officiating: NCAA Football shall not tolerate displays of emotion

(photo @ thedawgdude)

To kick off the college football season (which along with the NFL, is by far my favorite sports season of the year), we take a look at one of the most odd, vague, and maddening rules in the book:  Excessive Celebration.

Now don't get me wrong; celebrations in college football can get way out of hand.  One example of this is when the University of Georgia went nuts after their first touchdown against Florida in the behest of their coach, Mark Richt.

This was obviously way over the line.  Not only was it clearly excessive, but it also involved quite a bit of taunting.  To make things fair, however, here is another example where Georgia was called for an excessive celebration penalty near the end of a 2009 game against LSU....that makes absolutely no sense.

A dramatic, 4th quarter touchdown put UGA head of LSU 13-12 with less than a minute to play.  It capped an improbable comeback with an incredible catch by AJ Green in the back of the end zone.

After the amazing play, his teammates run up to congratulate him (they did not clearing the bench like in the example above), hug/chest bump him for a few seconds, and then head back to their bench.

According to the SEC, Green "made a gesture" to the crowd that warranted a 15 yard penalty on the ensuing kick off.  If you can find this "gesture," please let me know.

Many UGA fans have a "gesture" of their own that they 
would like to make towards the refs of this game.

The penalty made UGA kick off from the 15 yard line, gave LSU great field position, and helped them get a final touchdown to win the game 20-13.  The SEC later admitted that they had made the wrong call, but that didn't change the outcome of the game.

Now I'm about to commit the ultimate act of journalistic integrity for my next example; I'm going to use my own team,the University of Kentucky Wildcats, as the "bad" one, because I am a blogger.   I am held to a higher standard.

Not really, but I try to approach it that way

In 2007 against LSU, Kentucky receiver (and master of awesome) Stevie Johnson makes a touchdown catch in triple overtime to put the cats up 43-37 against the #1 ranked team in the country.  It was an amazing play; maybe the biggest in our program's modern history.  If there was ever a time worthy of a little celebration, it was now...

...except that the NCAA rule for excessive celebration is specifically identified as:

"Any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves)."

Now I love my boy, Stevie, but watch his celebration towards the stands at the end of this play and tell me what you see.

Despite my exuberance over this awesome victory, I will readily admit that by the letter of the law, Stevie Johnson should have been called for an excessive celebration penalty, which he was not.

I'm not sure what the sign he made meant, but it definitely was an individualistic celebration that was done towards the fans.

It probably means "We're gonna beat 
you in basketball, too sucka!"

For even more fun, watch the full video to see plenty of examples from both teams of acts that could be considered "excessive celebration."   In fact, in the segment I have the video cued to, you can even see the ref telling the players to "move it along" instead of throwing the flag.

Clearly, this rule, despite it's clear definitions, is arbitrary at best.

Which brings us to our final example, a thrilling game in 2008 between the Washington Huskies and the BYU Cougars.  The Huskies were down by one touchdown and were on the verge of scoring a game tying touchdown.

With only 8 seconds left, quarterback Jake Locker takes the ball on a draw and dives into the end zone on an incredible run.  He leaps into the air, tosses the ball aside to hug his teammates...and is called for an excessive celebration penalty.

The penalty pushed the Huskies back 15 yards, taking them out of range to go for the win with a 2 point conversion.  It also made a normally easy PAT attempt a much more difficult 35 yard kick, which BYU was able to block and preserve the victory.

After the game, referee Larry Farina tried to defend the call, stating:

“After scoring the touchdown, the player threw the ball into the air and we are required, by rule, to assess a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It is a celebration rule that we are required to call. It was not a judgment call.”


Not only were there possibly plenty of other examples of excessive celebration during the game (that were not flagged), but my examples above (and plenty more that happen every Saturday during college football season) show that the excessive celebration rule is nearly always a judgement call on the referee's part.

And besides, the kid wasn't taunting anyone or trying to draw attention to himself; he was celebrating an amazing play with his teammates.

  And this flag in my pocket was giving
me a wedgie; what's your point?

Look, there's no question that players taunting the other team after a touch down has no place in the collegiate game.  Even though football is a violent and emotional sport, there has to be a level of sportsmanship that should be expected.

The 'Ickey Shuffle', however, is still awesome.

In the end, I'll admit that I don't have a solution to the issue of when refs should or should not throw the excessive celebration flag.  I do, however, have one piece of advice:  

Football is an emotional game, especially at the collegiate level, where you are dealing with teenagers and young adults.  If you have to throw the penalty flag, try to make sure that it's not a deciding factor at the end of a game.

...or that you're just pulling it out 
of your butt to relieve a wedgie.