Senior College Football Columnist

College hoops and college football are playing by different rules


F-bombs and 3s dropping from the sky in equal measure. Preening that would embarrass Flavor Flav. Press tables doubling as stages for the owner of the latest buzzer-beater.

You've seen it all by now, as we prepare to tip off this week. Do you care? Should you care? Are you impressed, repulsed or are you like Kentucky legend/NCAA tournament analyst Rex Chapman?

"Please don't give that guy any more coverage," Chapman said of Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson this week on the Doug Gottlieb Show.

Welcome, then, to that Hendersonization of college basketball. This radical shift in decorum is, in some form, part of the game these days. Not only Entertainment Tonight, but entertainment every night. More than the ascension of Ole Miss' attention-seeking quasi-gunner, something revolutionary has happened while you were falling asleep on the couch with the remote.

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A divide has developed between the discipline of football and the liberalism of basketball. The sports have long been in red and blue states of mind. But what we have as the tournament begins is a clash of cultures, sportsmanship and manners.

The stuff pulled by the Rebels' polarizing guard is at least celebrated in college basketball, if not tacitly supported -- Gator-chomping the Florida fans, taunting the Auburn crowd, calling the SEC coaches losers."

Either this is the new face of college basketball or Henderson is the loudest, cockiest, brashest anomaly -- ever. Either way, an officiating chasm between football and basketball has gotten wider.

"The kids [in both sports] are different," said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. "A lot of military analogies in football are appropriate -- the esprits de corps and regimentation, trying to get more people going the same way. I worked with both groups all along. Basketball kids tend to be a little more loosey-goosey. Football kids tend to be a little more structured."

But why? In basketball, "Heaven Is A Playground." In football, we still celebrate, "When Pride Still Mattered."

The sports seem to be headed in opposite directions in terms of that decorum. Since 2011, it has been possible for a team to have a touchdown taken off the board if a player "styled" on his way to the end zone. Kansas State got flagged for excessive celebration at a crucial point in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl when a player merely saluted the crowd after a touchdown.

If that was the case over the weekend in the SEC tournament, Mississippi might have been shut out. Starting last season, college football players were required to go the sidelines for a play if their helmet popped off. You know what happened? Fewer helmets popped off. Conduct changed. The SEC has statistics to prove it.

College basketball players get a magazine cover if they lose their minds. Result, at least this week: more magazine covers. A Google search of "Marshall Henderson" this week got back 36 million results for the celebri-guard who misses 62 percent of his shots and is on his fourth school.

What a country. Ask Henderson.

"I've been the villain everywhere I've gone," he said.

Henderson's type of conduct in hoops we celebrate in opposite proportion to the lineman who would chop block Jadeveon Clowney in his zeal to protect the quarterback. The difference is one's "entertaining," the other is "dirty."

It's only in college where this discussion even matters. The NFL put its foot down on T.O. signing footballs long ago, but it still takes something close to a Broadway show breaking out before excessive celebration after a touchdown.

The "three" salute seems to have filtered down from the NBA. Every player worth his jumper has developed his personal trademark gesture after hitting from beyond the arc. It starts with thumb and forefinger forming an "O", the other three fingers extended. That's the base model. There are variations.

There was a time when the dunk wasn't allowed in college basketball. College football remains ultra-conservative, still caring -- like it or not -- about sportsmanship. Ever hear of the "get-back coach"? That's usually some low-level assistant tasked unofficially with keeping players from edging close to the sideline. God forbid, players with no hope of getting in the game are flagged for edging a toe onto the field of play.

Using Henderson as a case study, basketball just has a different vibe. For whatever reason, the sport allows more expression. Ever hear of the dunk contest? It started in the old ABA, the former pro league celebrated to this day for its flash.

Kansas' Ben McLemore was assessed a technical Friday after briefly flashing his signature "three" gesture as a he ran past the Iowa State bench in the Big 12 tournament. Coach Bill Self then freaked. Two minutes later, Self himself got T'd up.

"I didn't agree with the technical call on Ben at all and certainly didn't agree with the explanation," Self said.

That's how much a departure the whole scene was from modern college basketball. Rules state an unsporting technical can be assessed if a player is, "using profanity or vulgarity; taunting, baiting, ridiculing another player," or, "inciting undesirable crowd reaction."

Almost a textbook description of Ole Miss' Slim Shady over the weekend. Except that Henderson has committed only 58 fouls in 34 games and has been called for only two technicals. No techs, amazingly, in the SEC tournament.

"Generally, at the official's discretion, they would instruct the player to tone it down if the acts were excessive," NCAA coordinator of officials John Adams said in an email.


"Every sport has kind of unwritten rules that they let go by," said Jack Stark, a sports psychologist based in Lincoln, Neb. "It allows crowds to get into it. It's a unique phenomenon, basketball versus other sports."

More than that, it's the kind of March madness we not only accept but desire.

"If it's just some wacko who does something after he scores," said Hank Nichols, the NCAA's former coordinator of officials, "what are you going to do?"

Exactly. What gets you love in basketball, gets you a flag in football.

"If you shoot 50 percent on 3s, it's one of the few sports where you do something 50-50," Stark said. "It's kind of where they let them celebrate a little bit. As long as it's not in some guy's face."

Might as well get used to that sort of thing this month. A Rebel has become a rebel without much push back from the officials to this point. And as long we're referencing unwritten rules, F-bombs and cultural differences, be advised this is the time of year when officials allow the game to become more physical.

"Scoring is obviously down," Nichols said. "We've seen an escalation of rough play. Not that you're knocking people on the floor. We've let the contact go a little bit further than we should have the last couple of years. That's a general sense."

Conduct is in the eye of the whistle-holder. Count on Ole Miss' Slim Shady being in the middle of it. Then make sure those press tables are reinforced.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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