April 15, 2010
Regular readers will recall that in February the NCAA rules committee recommended approving a new rule that would strip touchdowns for taunting penalties, along with a ban on personalized eyeblack messages — area-code shout-outs, Bible verses, etc. — that threaten innocent American consumers with genuine individual expression during their carefully crafted weekend broadcasts. Wednesday, the Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP) made both rules official (emphasis added):
The change means, for example, that if a player makes a taunting gesture to an opponent on the way to scoring a touchdown, the flag would nullify the score and penalize the offending team from the spot of the foul.
Penalties for dead-ball misconduct fouls (for example, unsportsmanlike behavior after the player crosses the goal line) would continue to be assessed on the ensuing kickoff or the extra point/two point conversion attempt.
In another action that affects the coming season, PROP confirmed that players are not allowed to have any symbols or messages on their eye black starting in the 2010 season.
The anti-taunting rule won't take effect until 2011, which gives us a full season to count the ways it will ruin the game then. I'm not an apologist for excessive celebration (though it certainly can be fun in retrospect), but the most persistent issue with the NCAA's increased enforcement of "sportsmanship" over the last few years is that officials are so bad at applying it. It's insulting enough that the "crackdown" on taunting has already led to the kind of lame, overbearing interpretations like this one against Washington's Jake Locker in 2008 and this one against Georgia's A.J. Green last October, both of which played major roles in their teams' respective defeats in those games even without negating the late touchdowns that triggered the celebrations. Any rule that increases the opportunity for any official to directly, subjectively affect the outcome by striking points from the board is destined for catastrophe.
When touchdowns are taken away for holding penalties and the like, at least it's possible to argue that the touchdown was in part a result of the penalty, which afforded an advantage. Cosby's dive — or Reggie Bush's gratuitous flip against UCLA in 2004, or Desmond Reed's somersault in the 2008 Rose Bowl, or Tracy Porter's demonstrative pointing to the crowd during the game-icing interception return in January's Super Bowl — obviously had no impact whatsoever on whether he scored on the play. Could it be justifiably construed by a trigger-happy ref incessantly drilled to keep an eye out for taunting as an attempt to show up the Buckeyes? Of course. In which case he could throw the flag on Cosby, Texas doesn't score and possibly doesn't win on one of the biggest stages the vast majority of its players will ever be on.
Count on more than one team being screwed out of a critical score by this rule, because where the opportunity exists — for any outcome in any walk of life — human beings are guaranteed to exploit it.
Naturally, players will be drilled to restrain themselves to avoid giving officials that opportunity, and thus the game becomes that much more sterile for no good reason, a goal reinforced by the ban on expressive eyeblack. (Though it is perhaps the only rule ever passed that might actually remove a corporate logo from the screen, if it applies to them.) The game might do well to emphasize the few on-field outlets players have that allow them to not look exactly like every other player, but who knows what they might do or might put on their face if given the chance? And on television no less? Better safe than surprised. That's just modern life in the amateur version of the No Fun League.
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