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Post The once-a-decade taunting penalty

Friday April 16, 2010

As expected, most of the (over)reaction to taunting becoming a live-ball penalty has zeroed in on the problems with having a celebration penalty in the first place. Guidelines for just what behavior is allowed and disallowed are vague and – as we well know – whimsically applied.

I understand the apprehension. A penalty on a scoring play can cost a team the game – a holding call on a long touchdown run completely changed the 1993 Arkansas game. I also understand the fear that games could hang on such subjective calls. Not to get too semantic, but most calls are subjective. If you buy into the old saw that holding could be called on every play, far more games turn on the subjective application of the holding penalty than on unsportsmanlike conduct. I’m all for clarifying the celebration rule (or scrapping it entirely – as unlikely as that seems). If we’re going to have a celebration penalty – and it looks as if we’re stuck with it – the focus should be on getting it right.

I still wonder if this is as big of a deal as we’re making it out to be. Yesterday I said that one of the few gray areas was a player diving into the endzone. Even that seems to be less of a concern. “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,” [NCAA national coordinator of college football officiating Dave] Parry said. Of course we’re relying on conditional statements and promises here, but the frequency and types of incidents that could be affected by this rule continue to dwindle.

I elicited some message board help last night trying to come up with the last time that this penalty would have affected a Georgia touchdown. The best we could come up with? Bruce Thornton’s interception return against FSU in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. That was a fairly cut-and-dried example of taunting before a score – no ambiguity or argument there. Eight seasons ago. And this is the rule change that’s going to ruin the sport?

Tony Barnhart sums up why I think this rule makes sense:

What all of us who follow college football want is for the rules to be consistent and for the officials to apply them consistently. If a block in the back or a hold occurs at the five-yard line with a player running in for the score, the score does not count. The penalty is marked off from the spot of the foul…Same thing here.

So now that rule is consistent with other penalties. It’s the application of the rule that will be the trick.

Barnhart agrees that this rule would come up a lot less frequently than the dire predictions would have us think. “In the hundreds of Division I-A games played in 2010, this penalty will be called on a scoring play 10 or less times,” he predicts. That sounds about right.

2 Responses to 'The once-a-decade taunting penalty'

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  • The difference between a block-in-the-back penalty and a “taunting” penalty, though, is that a block in the back gives the blocking team an unfair advantage, however minor, that could conceivably alter the outcome of the play. If a ball-carrier is far enough ahead of his defenders to taunt before crossing the goal line, though, the outcome of the play is already pretty much decided. Hell, he’s probably putting himself at a disadvantage by altering his stride to high-step or finger-wag or whatever.

    None of this is meant to be a defense of taunting, obviously, but the new penalty seems like a gross overreaction. The punishment, in other words, doesn’t remotely fit the crime. And I’m nowhere near as confident as you are that this will only end up being called a handful of times a year — if it’s going to be invoked that rarely, why would the NCAA bother changing the rule in the first place?

  • I don’t know what the catalyst could have been for changing the rule, but the rationale is that it’s pretty much the only foul that could occur during live action that was enforced differently.

    “I think one of the reasons it’s been looked at is that when a penalty occurs on the field, it’s normally taken from the spot,” Grant Teaff said. “This was the only occurrence that it wasn’t taken from the spot, so they wanted to change that.”

    Of course as you note it’s also one of the only penalties that doesn’t necessarily give the guy scoring an advantage. Nor does a bad rule, if that’s your take, applied only 10 times instead of 100 make it any less of a bad rule.