The NCAA passed a few new rules this week – one of which is pretty good and another which is opens a can of worms that is very susceptible to abuse.
The good rule eliminates wedge blocks on kickoffs. The NFL did away with wedge blocks last year and the NCAA was quick to follow suit this off-season. Injuries on kickoffs tend to be on the severe side – NCAA studies have shown 1 in 5 injuries on kickoffs in college football lead to concussions. If eliminating wedge blocks can cut down on concussions, great.
A side effect of this new rule might be a little more excitement in the return game. Logic would suggest that limiting the returning team’s blocking schemes would cut down on kick return yardage. Some stats from the NFL in its first season without wedge blocks suggests otherwise. In 2008, when wedge blocks were legal, there were 13 kicks returned for touchdowns in the NFL. A year later, in 2009, without wedge blocks, 18 kicks were taken all the way.
Anyway you look at it, this rule is pretty solid.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way let’s get into the one I’m not too fond of.
The NCAA decided to tackle taunting this off-season. So, starting in 2011, taunting penalties will become live ball penalties instead dead ball meaning that if a player is flagged for taunting enroute to the end zone, the touchdown would be called back and a 15 yard penalty would be assessed from the spot of foul.
On the surface this might not seem too bad. Reducing taunting is a good thing right?
Where this new rule becomes a problem is that is adds another layer of discretion for the refs. Taunting is not exactly clear cut. There is a level of judgment needed to be made by the official for a flag to be thrown. What could be taunting to one official might just be a little too much excitement to another.
Remember Taylor Stubblefield’s 97 yard touchdown against Notre Dame back in 2004? Let me refresh your memory.
Stubblefield got flagged for taunting on that play for raising his fist at his own 40 yard line. Under new rules the touchdown would be negated and Purdue would have gotten pushed back to its own 25 yard line. No backflips, no dives into the end-zone, no high stepping. Just a little fisting pumping as he ran into the end-zone. Starting in 2011 though, such a play would get called back.
The Stubblefield play pretty clearly shows how much discretion will come into play with this new rule. Not every official would have called that taunting. Was what Stubblefield did any worse than what Golden Tate did against Michigan in 2009 when he slowed down and extended the ball before scoring against Michigan? Not all yet. Stubblefied was flagged, Tate wasn’t.
Note – a NCAA spokesman told ESPN on Thursday that the Tate play would be a live ball 15 yard penalty from the spot of the foul starting in 2011. Again, even though the play didn’t even draw a flag in 2009.
In a college football landscape where officiating is already a major issue since each conference has its own officials, this rule is ripe for abuse.
Let’s take an out of conference showdown between top 10 teams as an example. Say both teams in this hypothetical matchup have national championship aspirations. The road team scores a long touchdown to steal the lead in the final minute and in a moment of brief exuberance, the player throws his hand or fist in the air before he reaches the end zone. Now, does the NCAA really think that there won’t be major pressure on the home team’s own conference officials to throw that flag to negate the potential game winning touchdown?
Excessive celebration and taunting penalties were already not being handled that well in college football. The current rules were already impacting the outcomes of games.
Remember when Washington was flagged for excessive celebration when Jake Locker tossed the ball in the air after scoring a last minute touchdown against USC a few years back and went on to miss the extra point?
For a Notre Dame example, go back to the 1999 Michigan game when Bobby Brown got flagged for excessive celebration to putting his hands up against his helmet. Notre Dame had to kick off from the 20 yard line and Michigan and the field position shift helped Michigan march down the field for the go ahead score.
Taunting and excessive celebration aren’t good for the game, but as long as players aren’t doing premeditated dances and routines or blatantly taunting opposing players, the NCAA needs to let the kids play the game and have a little fun.
There are so many other areas where the NCAA could be trying to improve the game that this new taunting rule just seems misplaced.
How about toughening rules against teams that don’t graduate their players (or in some cases even attempt to care that their players don’t graduate)? Or how about cracking down on coaches who rack up secondary recruiting violations like parking ticket?
The third new rule the NCAA passed banned the use of messages on eye blacks. Since the personalized messages always kind of annoyed me, I’m all for this one, but this too shows where the NCAA’s priorities are.
Meanwhile, we still haven’t heard the NCAA’s rulings on the now 3+ year Reggie Bush investigation.