Wednesday, September 10, 2008

the rules are the rules, except when they're not

In case you weren't watching any college pigskin last weekend, and have not watched any sports news whatsoever since then, here's a clip of the event that has everyone talking about the letter vs. the spirit of the rules this week. This is #15 BYU at Washington, 4th quarter, 8 seconds left on the clock. BYU leads 28-21, but Washington has the ball on the BYU 3 yard line... and then this happens:

To clarify, moving the PAT (point after touchdown) back 15 yards means the kicker has to kick the ball lower than normal, greatly increasing the chance of it being blocked. That's why the commentators blame the refs for the block.

King Kaufman makes a good case that Locker and Washington got hosed, and that the referees are guilty of poor judgment in refusing to let Locker slide during a moment where only the most stoic of personalities could possibly have contained themselves. College football is intense and emotional, and Locker was right in the middle of the perfect sports narrative: the young, talented player from a downtrodden program who makes a comeback at the end of the game and dives into the endzone with 2 seconds left on the clock.

The crowd goes wild.

The celebration rule falls under "unsportsmanlike conduct" for a reason. Celebration with your teammates is fine; it's the time-wasting, self-aggrandizing, insulting and sophomoric antics of emotionally stunted NFL players that the NCAA is seeking to curtail. It's hard to see how Locker's ball over the shoulder qualifies.

On the other hand, the rules are the rules, and it does clearly state in the rules that throwing the ball in the air as part of a celebration qualifies as unsportsmanlike conduct. What goes in the first quarter has to go at the end of the game as well, even especially when the game is on the line, or there's no point in having the rule.

It should also be noted, by the way, that a nontrivial amount of the hoopla surrounding this call revolves around the fact that Jake Locker is a pretty popular guy in the world of college football news/fandom. He's widely considered one the sport's more collegial, upstanding kids, so fans and pundits tend to want to cut him some slack. People just ate up the story of Locker, the highly touted high school quarterback, passing up generous offers from all the marquee football programs so that the poor sap could play for his hapless hometown school (admittedly, included myself; I really like the guy). Everyone wants to see Locker succeed.

And then, of course, there's Ty Willingham, the perpetually even keel, classy, promising Notre Dame football coach, booted out of the program before he was allowed the standard 5 years that all the coaches get, cast into exile in Washington to clean up a program in shambles from years of neglect. He lands a great recruit in Locker, and nearly beats a bunch of great schools last season, including Ohio State and USC, but still ends up somewhere around 3-9. It's generally assumed that this is his last year to improve Washington's record or he's out, and unlikely ever to be a head coach again. Plus, his success would make Notre Dame look bad, and everyone who doesn't love ND hates them.

I can't help but wonder if we would be seeing the same level of disapproval if it were a less popular kid who committed the foul, and a less sympathetic coach who suffered because of it.

What do you think?

1 comment:

TioChuy said...

I'm glad he got the call. I'm tired of seeing these kids have fun. You are supposed to make your touchdown and hand the ball to an official and walk off the field like a man, a man with a stick up his ass.