Column: Hypocritical Football Penalties

By W. BRIAN HALE, Eagle Sports Writer
Posted 6/28/19

In preparation for the upcoming 2019 football season, I've spent some time recently looking over games in the SEC, not only from the 2018 season, but in many cases from several years past.

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Column: Hypocritical Football Penalties


In preparation for the upcoming 2019 football season, I've spent some time recently looking over games in the SEC, not only from the 2018 season, but in many cases from several years past.

I always like to take an in-depth look at the broadcasts, not only to get an idea of what to expect from the players that will fill holes after the departures from last season, but to watch and analyze plays, as well as the execution — or in some case, lack thereof — as the ball is snapped.

In looking through the games from years past, there's one thing that always draws my ire — excessive celebration penalties.

Getting a flag for being happy after you've made a big play.

Now let me start of by saying this is in no way advocating taunting — in those cases a flag is warranted, as such actions can lead to brawls on the field and in some worst-case scenarios, off the field as well. We have yet (at least in recent history) to have fans storm the field to attack the opposing team, but in today's climate a disrespectful taunt could cause that threshold to be crossed.

But going into the endzone after a touchdown to do a rendition of the Riverdance i.e. former NFL great Chad Johnson or the offense doing a push-up drill in celebration after a score shouldn't warrant a flag.

But it does, at least in college football. (The NFL has delightfully gotten rid of the ridiculous rule, after all, essentially you could call pro players paid entertainers.)

The definition of the rule by the NCAA when it comes to celebrating comes as follows:

(a) Pointing the finger(s), hand(s), arm(s) or ball at an opponent, or imitating the slashing of the throat.

(b) Taunting, baiting or ridiculing an opponent verbally.

(c) Inciting an opponent or spectators in any other way, such as simulating the firing of a weapon or placing a hand by the ear to request recognition.

(d) Any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves).

(e) An unopposed ball carrier obviously altering stride as he approaches the opponent’s goal line or diving into the end zone.

(f) A player removing his helmet after the ball is dead and before he is in the team area (Exceptions: Team, media or injury timeouts; equipment adjustment; through play; between periods; and during a measurement for a first down).

(g) Punching one’s own chest or crossing one’s arms in front of the chest while standing over a prone player.

h) Going into the stands to interact with spectators, or bowing at the waist after a good play.

(i) Intentionally removing the helmet while the ball is alive.

(j) Kicking, throwing, spinning or carrying (including off of the field) the ball any distance that requires an official to retrieve it.

(k) Spiking the ball to the ground [Exception: A forward pass to conserve time.]

(l) Throwing the ball high into the air.

(m) Any other unsportsmanlike act or actions that delay the game.

Thus, anything outside of a little weak team celebration is going to get you penalized.

Some of the above guidelines does target taunting, which it takes care of well. The rest is frankly stupid.

My real problem is where the rest of the rules is targeted, or even further where it is not target and where officials are not calling the penalties.

In many games, defensive players celebrate (often individually) after making a quarterback sack, interception or dropping a runningback behind the line of scrimmage. If we want to point where the infraction would be labeled in the above rules, we could say c, d, e and h.

Does the flag come out and 15 yards get stepped-off? Only in an extremely rare situation or in the case of taunting.

I didn't read in the rules where it penalty was strictly confined to the offense, but that is what has occurred for several years.

I questioned an official some years ago about this "only flag the offense for celebration" mentality, in which the reply was to the effect of, "I'm busy watching the quarterback or ball carrier to make sure no injury has occurred on the play, as well as to ensure they are not taunted or ridiculed by the tackler or other players."

Okay — I understand one official maintaining their vigil over the fallen offensive player, but there's eight officials on the field during a game. One of the remaining seven referees can't see the actions of the celebrating defensive player and throw a flag?

Obviously as you can tell, I'm not a fan of the excessive celebration rule in its current form except to deter and penalize taunting, but it's in effect and until overturned, here to stay.

However, the rules should apply to all players — offense, defense and even special teams if a kicker wants to do a dance after kicking a 53-yard field goal.

Enforce the rule for everyone or get rid of it all together. Hopefully in a few years, the rule will be revised to just outline taunting or disrespect of the officials and wiser heads will prevail.