Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Celebrating Touchdowns In College Football: The Case Of BYU Vs. UW

I will certainly appear heretical to the faithful, but whether or not University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker technically broke the rules by throwing the ball in the air after scoring a potential tying touchdown against BYU last Saturday, his team should not have been penalized.

College Football is big business (1) and big spectacle. There are a few who still believe that NCAA football is about teaching values to students, but the scales have fallen from most peoples' eyes and (to quote Barack Obama AND John McCain) we should just call a pig a pig.

BYU's head coach, Bronco Mendenhall, agreed with the call and told reporters after Saturday's game: "[The rules] are to teach principles of class and integrity" (2). Bronco means it. And I'm sure he really believes it. Everything I have seen from him indicates he is trying to do things the right way. But he is reiterating a nineteenth-century coubertinian ideal that is currently buried under the stultifying weight of commercial and professional interests that drown out those noble ideals. And any university wanting to get into NCAA sports at the highest level must accept these outside influences as par for the course.

Why can't a college quarterback throw a ball in celebration? Will it slow down the game? If this is really a problem, cut out some of the commercial time-outs. Does it show a lack of respect and decorum? If universities cared about this they would not have built stadiums bigger than libraries and arenas bigger than research labs. In other words, the message implicitly sent by the NCAA and its member institutions is that winning at football is more important than learning. So since football (and its accompanying 60,000 fans screaming obscenities) is the heart, soul, and architectural center of university life, let the athletes put on a good show and, yes, let them throw the ball after scoring a touchdown. More people will pay to see it.

P.S.: a colleague pointed out that one of the problems with the BYU-UW football game was that it was officiated by a Pac-10 team and played in a Pac-10 stadium. Usually, an officiating crew from an outside conference should be brought in. The last penalty, I'm told, may have been called to make up for the number of calls made in UW's favor throughout the game. I am surprised not more has been made of this... all the criticism has been directed at officials and at BYU's team, who really outplayed UW and deserved the win (again, so I'm told).

(1) The report of the NCAA Knight Commission suggests that almost all athletic departments lose money and "must siphon funds from general revenue to try to keep up with the Joneses. Pursuit of success in this context jeopardizes not only the universities' moral heritage but also their financial security." In other words, the big business aspect of big-time college sports is a losing proposition that actually hinders academic progress.
(2) As reported in


Anonymous said...

The rule in question is Rule 9, Section 2, Article 1 of the rule book.
Section C of that rule states that "throwing the ball high into the air" is an unsportsmanlike act. It was not a problem with the refs. They were following the rules. If anything should be changed or fingers pointed it should be directed towards the NCAA and the rule it created. On the video someone timed it and the ball came down 2.36 seconds after it left Locker's hand. It must have been thrown pretty high. I also think it is a shame that something like that should be a penalty, but it is the rule that should be changed, not the refs who did their job.

Derek said...

I don't feel that the call in question was made to make up for earlier bias in the game. With 2 seconds on the clock, 99% of the time a penalty assessed on the PAT or the ensuing kickoff has no effect on the score whatsoever. Either way you look at it, the kick was blocked and BYU has shown that they can block kicks (3 blocks in their last 4 games - 2 against another Pac 10 school).
Honestly, I still have a hard time seeing why a call made according to the rules is "controversial" other than the fact that other officiating crews choose to ignore the rules (but thats another point and I agree with the earlier post that the problem lies with the NCAA and the Rule itself, not the ref making a correct call - or other refs not making the call in other cases). If we compare this "blown" late-game call to other sports, such as basketball, it pales in comparison. How many College Basketball games have been lost in just the last year because a ref made a ticky-tacky call on a last second lay-in, or even a no call on a similar situation. Dozens. Do teams whine for weeks? No. It's a part of the game. Only when UNC beats Duke on a lame call do people even discuss it beyond a day. In football it can be the same - suppose Washington was the beneficiary of a poor holding call on their winning drive. The bad penalty call in this case would have allowed UW to continue on a game-tying drive when perhaps they should've been facing a 4th and 10. It's not "controversial" to allow a team a continued opportunity to try, because the defending team still has a chance to stop them before they score. This is the same for the celebration call, it hurt Washington by 15 yards, but they could have still made the kick and tied the game. The referees call made that harder, but still above a 50-50 shot. I think people were looking for reasons to take a good team down so that they don't have to share their BCS money with a weaker conference.

Corry Cropper said...

No question, the vitriolic reaction(s) suggest some resentment there. How could a PAC-10 school lose to BYU--a bunch of goody goody religious fanatics?

And I like your comparison w/ basketball... or even take baseball: umps blow ball/strike calls all the time--close to one per at bat. But since there are only some 11 or 12 games in a college football season, everything is amplified. Too amplified.

Pass me the earplugs....