October 05, 2009
Or, college football does its best impression of the Soup Nazi.
There were far more controversial calls over the weekend, and even in Notre Dame's win over Washington, but the final play in South Bend is an interesting Rorschach test on one of the major themes of the early season. Specifically, did it cross your mind that the hit on the Huskies' D'Andre Goodwin might draw a flag?
Looks clean to me, but I know some Washington fans (predictably) thought a "helmet-to-helmet" flag should have been thrown on the Irish, and some not-so-biased observers agreed with them in the immediate aftermath. And then again, being the sort that doesn't recognize the possibility of any penalty except a facemask during the act of bring down a runner, earlier in the year I didn't think Reshad Jones' hit on Justin Blackmon at Oklahoma State was a penalty, either:
But it drew a flag, anyway. So, too, did Michigan State's Roderick Jenrette, flying to the ball Saturday to help bring down Michigan's Junior Hemingway:
It's not surprising that that call came in a Big Ten game, since -- per its preseason dictum -- the Big Ten has been ground zero for the unsportsmanlike hit. The conference felt duty-bound to suspend Michigan's Jonas Mouton for a game for delivering an uppercut to a Notre Dame lineman at the end of a play, even though (or maybe because) it didn't draw a flag in the game:
... which didn't sit well at all with Mouton's coach, Rich Rodriguez, who accepted the suspension but subsequently informed the Big Ten that "we will watch every Big Ten game very closely and every non-football act, a six-inch jab or anything that is not called for in the game of football, we’re going to ask that that person gets the same type of punishment that Jonas Mouton got." And so the conference has been doling out questionable suspensions at every possible opportunity in the meantime, namely on Purdue's Zach Reckman and Ohio State's Kurt Coleman:
All of those calls are pretext to what really, really bothered me about the dual personal foul penalties on Georgia on LSU for excessive celebration after go-ahead touchdowns in the final two minutes, which have been so universally deplored in the subsequent 48 hours. It's not just that they were bad calls (they obviously were), or that they dramatically changed the outcome of the game (they didn't; Georgia may have had an argument on the latter point if it hadn't gotten the exact same bogus call on LSU seconds later). But they personified the over-the-top, ticky-tack trend that from my perspective has nearly ruined the NFL -- where officials seemingly have no discretion whatsoever to let slide a borderline crime that couldn't possibly warrant the subsequent punishment, sometimes radically altering the game in the process -- and that's slowly, steadily trickling down into the college game under the banner of "player safety." That's not really a banner you can argue with. But it is an inherently violent game, fundamentally requiring violent acts between the whistles, and especially in the process of making tackles. It's an inherently emotional game, especially when it dramatically turns in your team's favor in front of 80,000 people with less than two minutes to play. At some point, the emphasis on enforcing "sportsmanship" and "safety" can cross the line to penalizing and ultimately preventing a player from a) doing his job, and (just as importantly) b) enjoying his job when performed well, which was supposed to be the point, somewhere in there.
This is not a big complaint, but it is a complaint. Let the kids play football.