Friday, January 06, 2006

Football needs to learn some lessons from Futbol

The 2005 NCAA Football Rules(pdf) contained Points of Emphasis focusing on sideline control, protecting defenseless players, and unsportsmanlike conduct among others. Not sure where they emphasized sideline control (Michigan-Nebraska), but the real problem I see is how they define what constitutes unsportsmanlike conduct and who is a defenseless player.

For starters, officials seem to have confounded the concepts of "celebration" and "taunting". I for one think that a flag should NEVER be thrown for celebration (completed promptly). But, I would consider a touchdown dance to be taunting.

The Rules Committee makes a strange note about the progression of the unsportsmanlike conduct rule in adding specific unsportsmanlike violations: "[it] has been the result of changing attitudes of players and their negative actions on the field." Also, "the Committee has no intent to discourage spontaneous celebrations with teammates or fans when done in good taste. Enthusiasm is one of football's great assets". Umm...I'm not sure the 'Dores in the Swamp would agree.

The failure to make the distinction between taunting and celebration has led to some horribly inconsistent officiating after scores, turnovers, big hits, or sacks. LenDale White managed to hand the ball directly to the official in a taunting manner during the NCG. He also highstepped into the endzone - no call even though there is a specific rule relating to this:

Rule 9, Sec. 2, Art. 1 covers Unsportsmanlike Acts - (e) Obviously altering stride as an unopposed runner approaches the opponent's goal line... [score is good, 15 yard penalty]

A good way to enforce this rule would be to focus more on penalizing taunting and keeping celebrations as short as possible. If it were up to me to shorten celebrations (which would help at the NFL level as well), I would have a rule where the play clock for the extra point starts when whistle blows awarding the TD. Then, the player who scored the TD must participate in the conversion as either the kicker or holder (or play for a 2-pt.), and the ball that scored the TD must be used for the conversion. That way there would be no flag for "excessive celebration", just the team would forfeit the chance at the extra point(s). Then, after the conversion, the team should have 10 seconds to be off the field (excepting injury), or merit a taunting penalty.

The other unsportsmanlike act that has become a problem ties in with the definition of who is a defenseless player. By the literal meaning of a defenseless player, he cannot be one who intentionally made himself defenseless (the ability not to make yourself defenseless is essentially a defense). Therefore, players who turn their back into a blocker on a punt return are not defenseless. Additionally, players who slow down to entice a hit out of bounds are not defenseless. (I would suggest a 1 yard buffer zone on the sidelines where "late hit out of bounds" cannot be called - if you don't want to get hit, keep moving past the buffer zone).

Punt returns are the most egregious examples. I am more surprised when there is not a flag thrown for "illegal block in the back" than when there is. It totally ruins one of the most exciting plays in football to scan the field for a little yellow hanky on the far side of the field from where the returner shot through to the end zone. I would put a Point of Emphasis on this part of the rule for next year:

Rule 9, Sec. 1, Art. 2(d) "There shall be no clipping."

BUT - Exception 2: When a player turns his back to a potential blocker who has committed himself in intent and direction or movement.

This is where Futbol comes in - FIFA Rules(pdf) account for this situation by getting players halfway to kicked out of the game for it.

Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct: Decision (of the International F.A. Board) 5 (p. 40): Any simulating action anywhere on the field, which is intended to deceive the referee, must be sanctioned as unsporting behaviour. [yellow card]

When a player intentionally tries to make the referee throw a flag, it is literally unsportsmanlike. Be sure to see the contrast between deceiving the other team (a hard count) and deceiving the referee (flailing out of bounds or turning your back into a block).

All in all, next year I hope there is more clarity in the celebration officiating and I hope to see some 15 yarders go the opposite direction next year when this utterly unsportsmanlike conduct happens (and gamesmanship is just a bullshit euphemism).