Justin Blackmon probably doesn't know he has become must-see viewing for the NCAA rules committee. The Oklahoma State receiver's goal line-straddling touchdown against Arizona on Dec. 29 in the Alamo Bowl wasn't penalized, but it's been flagged for review by the committee at its meeting next month.
"That will be shown in February," said Dave Parry, college football's national officiating coordinator. "I've already told them to pull that play. Next year, with the rule as it's written as we speak, that would not be a touchdown."
Coaches and players may say they know about the radical rule change beginning this year that will take points off the board for unsportsmanlike conduct, but they really don't. Not until it actually happens. Not until it affects a game. Not until a win turns into a loss because a touchdown is discounted because of a "taunting gesture." The change, to be implemented this fall, will negate touchdowns by any player judged as excessively celebrating on his way to the end zone. Parry said the penalty will apply to any offensive player, not just the ball carrier, and defensive players -- for example, when someone returns an interception for a TD.
|Philadelphia Eagles punt returner DeSean Jackson set a dubious example on Dec. 19, tip-toeing along the end zone before his TD. (Getty Images)|
Taking away a touchdown because of emotion?
"It's going to have a huge impact," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
The so-called "Miami Rule" was adopted last year as part of the rules committee's continued emphasis on sportsmanship. Currently, excessive celebration penalties on scoring plays are treated as dead-ball fouls. The 15 yards are marked off on the extra point, two-point conversion or kickoff. Going forward, excessive celebration flags thrown on players going in for a score will be treated like holding in the open field. The penalty will be marked off from the spot of the foul. So, the six points from Blackmon's 71-yard touchdown catch, capped by a you-can't-catch-me 20-yard run parallel to the goal line, would have been eliminated.
"That would be a 15-yard penalty from the 2-yard line back to about the 17," Parry said. "That would get people's attention quickly."
Awareness is already growing.
"I guess college football is trying to make a statement -- celebrations, how far to go," Oregon receiver Josh Huff said. "Coach [Chip] Kelly, he taught us to hand the ball to the referee and celebrate with our teammates. When you celebrate with yourself, it kind of takes the air out of everything. It's like a selfish way of celebrating with yourself and not giving any credit to your teammates."
There were enough questionable judgment calls by officials during the bowl season to suggest there is going to be an adjustment period. Kansas State was denied a shot at a normal two-point conversion that could have tied the Pinstripe Bowl late against Syracuse. Wildcats receiver Adrian Hilburn was flagged for excessive celebration after saluting into the stands following a late touchdown catch.
That wasn't a precise example of the Miami Rule, but the same broad definitions of NCAA "unsportsmanlike acts" conduct applied: "Obscene language ... pointing the fingers ... taunting ... baiting ... ridiculing an opponent verbally ... inciting an opponent ... simulating the firing of a weapon ... delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act ...." Now officials are going to potentially determine the outcome of a game because of what a hormonally charged teenager may decide to do while scoring a touchdown. Fair?
"The coaches are going to have to take the bull by the horns," said one veteran official who attended an NCAA rules seminar last year. "It's one thing to do a point-after-touchdown from the 18. Do you want to lose the opportunity for the PAT? They're really putting the burden on the coaches more than they're putting on us. The NCAA wants it cleaned up."
Don't blame this, by the way, on the big, bad, faceless NCAA. The rules committee is college football, made up of coaches and administrators who rely on input from coaches. The committee then recommends changes to an NCAA oversight panel. This change was made early last year, and later approved by the oversight panel. Most rules changes now are made every two years to allow discussion and implementation.
If you're a fan of civility, the change is coming along at just the right time. With the New York Jets flapping their gums, the Miami Rule is doing its part to shut the mouths of collegians. Or at least try. This also puts more of the emphasis on the "judgment" part of judgment calls. Once again, Hilburn's penalty was a dead-ball foul and wouldn't have impacted by the new rule. However ...
"I think all of us would agree that there are moments in games when common sense takes over. This might have been one of those moments," said Parry, adding he did not want to throw the Big Ten officiating crew "under the bus." "How do we know he [Hilburn] wasn't saluting uncles in the Army? This is a real problem for us, to get [the rule] written up so it is practical."
There was a similar play in 2009 when Georgia's A.J. Green was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after a touchdown against LSU. The yardage assessed on the kickoff allowed the Tigers better field position to drive for the winning touchdown. The SEC officiating crew was later suspended when the league determined the flag should not have been thrown. Rogers Redding is the outgoing SEC supervisor of officials who had a hand in that decision. Redding, also the secretary-editor of the NCAA rules committee, will replace Parry, who's retiring, as national officiating coordinator on Feb. 1.
"I don't know how I feel about that," Auburn receiver Darvin Adams said of the Miami Rule. "Coach Chizik is always teaching us, 'Don't do anything to cost the team.' That rule should be enforced, I guess. Sometimes guys just got to show their emotions."
Adams is headed to the NFL, where such conduct is mostly tolerated. Blackmon had to be "inspired" by Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson, whose last-play punt return beat the Giants on Dec. 19. On the play, Jackson, who clearly was going to score, ran along just outside the goal line before entering the end zone.
"DeSean Jackson is my favorite receiver to watch," Huff said. "That crossed the line a little too much. You just scored, do what you have to do afterward. Straddling the goal line and throwing the ball into the stands, that's not what football is about. Football is about enjoying yourself."
Huff and his peers are about to learn how far that enjoyment can go.