Senior Writer

New taunting rule sends a mixed message


Starting this season, unsportsmanlike acts like this one could erase points off the scoreboard. (US Presswire)  
Starting this season, unsportsmanlike acts like this one could erase points off the scoreboard. (US Presswire)  

When it happens, blame the coaches.

It's on them when LSU's fourth-quarter, go-ahead touchdown at Alabama on Nov. 5 is flagged because Spencer Ware waved the ball in Mark Barron's face at the 10.

That impending riot at the Texas State Fair? Caused by Longhorns fans gone wild when Garrett Gilbert's game-winning naked bootleg run against Oklahoma doesn't count because Texas' quarterback woofed at a defender on his way in.

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Just remember, all -- or any version -- is on the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision coaches.

They're the ones who after the 2009 season saw fit to fundamentally alter the game with a rule change that goes into effect next week when the regular season kicks off. Taunting fouls occurring in the field of play during scoring plays no longer are considered dead-ball penalties. In fact, they don't count as scoring plays.

Forget the 15 yards applied on the extra point or the ensuing kickoff. Starting this season, after such unsportsmanlike acts there will be the same, old flag. The ball will be moved back 15 yards but also ... the points will be taken off the board.

The question is, will there be a Richter Scale sturdy enough to measure the reaction when the new rule just happens to impact the likes of LSU and/or Texas?

"If you don't want to put yourself at risk," warned Big 12 coordinator of football officials Walt Anderson, "don't do stupid acts."

And you can't fix stupid, or the inherent problem with everything unsportsmanlike in football: A penalty is in the eyes of the flag holder. Anderson and his peers are united in trying to take the sting out of this ultimate judgment call. They say they will give players every benefit of the doubt.

Short of someone pulling out a Sharpie, it seems like they aren't going to call it.

"I want your mother who's at home on the couch to say, 'Oh my gosh, that happened on the 20-yard line. You're not going to get that score,'" Anderson said.

That still doesn't remove the human element. Officials are going to be the ones to determine whether it's a desperate dive into the end zone or the Nestea Plunge.

Do we really want officials to be emotion police? The coaches have answered with a resounding yes by pushing their sportsmanship agenda in recent years.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. It is a bit hypocritical considering the profession's stabs at morality lately. Excuse us if we don't trust coaches with the whole right/wrong thing at the moment.

Sooner or later, one coach or another will have kittens the first time a score is taken away. And they will have no right. All they have to do is look in the mirror. They wanted this.

The rule evolved from the old gum-flapping heyday of Miami. Former national officiating coordinator Dave Parry said that things started to change after the infamous 1991 Cotton Bowl. The Canes woofed their way to a 46-3 win over Texas despite getting flagged 16 times for 202 yards.

Those Hurricanes set the taunting standard. It was fun to watch, but times have changed.

"Keep running," Miami coach Al Golden said earlier this year. "If we get points taken off the board because we're celebrating, keep running."

The implication long before Nevin Shapiro's alleged actions had anything to do with player eligibility: You're off the team.

Understandably, the list of unsportsmanlike acts have increased in the NCAA rulebook since Miami's carefree days of camouflage:

Obscene language now shares space with pointing the fingers which is part of taunting...baiting ...and ridiculing an opponent verbally that can always lead to the ever-popular simulating the firing of a weapon.

"I've always believed in a passionate team," Golden added. "But there's a real simple solution to that. Go find your teammates and don't call attention to yourself. John Wooden used to say, 'It takes 10 hands to score a basket.' It takes 22 hands to score a touchdown."

Some version of that belief will be passed on in those 120 locker rooms this month. While the coaching profession continues to run wild in the streets, it's up to those same coaches to convince players not to run too wild on the field.

"The coaches, I don't know how they're going to feel on Saturday afternoons in the fall," said Steve Shaw, the SEC's new coordinator of officials. "The coaches on the rules committee were pretty insistent."

Actually, the overwhelming majority of coaches nationally were insistent. We wouldn't be here if coaches hadn't reacted as one in the annual rules survey, according to an NCAA official. Their support of the rule change was then reviewed at the annual American Football Coaches Association of America convention. A 35-member AFCA rules committee then passed it up to the NCAA rules committee, itself comprised mostly of coaches.

After a review of an NCAA oversight group it was passed in the spring of 2010. If you have any problems this season, take them to Maryland's Randy Edsall, former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez. They were the FBS component of the NCAA rules committee that pushed through this change.

"The truth of the matter is there is not one official who has ever, ever been involved in a rule change," said Doug Rhoads, the ACC coordinator of football officials. "The coaches did want this out of the game. In a way, I do applaud them."

In another way, it puts added pressure on officials who will be asked to interpret intent, will and the sometimes inexplicable mood swings of the average 19-year-old. Is that any way to decide a major-college football game, conference race or, possibly, a national title?

"When you get excited, your adrenaline starts going," said one of the key figures in the rule change. "I'm not saying you should run down the line and kick the ball in the stands. But if you popped up and showed a little bit of excitement, it should be OK."

That's Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, whose Alamo Bowl touchdown (:59 mark) has been featured in the preseason, demonstrating to players nationwide what not to do when coasting free for a score. At the end of a long catch and run against Arizona, Blackmon ran horizontal to the goal line for several yards before scoring.

Before his death earlier this year, Parry promised Blackmon's touchdown would make the lowlight reel of examples of what not to do this season.

"It was just something that happened," said Blackmon, an All-American. "I looked back and saw no one was close so I said, 'Why not? It's the bowl game.'"

When it comes down to it, Anderson says he expects scores to be taken off the board six to 12 times this season.

"Heck, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that it might happen half a dozen times in Week 1.

"Over time, just like a lot of rules, they'll get the message."

Yes, but what is that message? Is it turning the college game into Robot Ball? Is sportsmanship dead? What's wrong with a Nestea Plunge between friends?

Ask the coaches. They seem to have everything under control.

Or maybe not.

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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