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Berry Tramel: Football officials told to cool it on celebration calls

by Berry Tramel Published: July 11, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Walt Anderson's phone blew up just seconds after the infamous flag flew in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Proper call? Everyone from fellow refs to Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe wanted to know.

Anderson was sitting on his sofa in Sugar Land, Texas, watching as Kansas State's Adrian Hilburn scored a touchdown reception with 1:13 left in the game, bringing the Wildcats within 36-34.

Hilburn stopped in the Yankee Stadium end zone, quickly saluted the KSU fans and drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Thus the ‘Cats' 2-point conversion came from the 17-yard line, and of course it failed.

Correct call? Maybe. Good call? No way. Not by anyone with a clue nor by the NCAA football rules committee.

You'll be pleased to know that college football's behavior police have taken a chill pill. The message for football officials in 2011 is simple.


“The rules committee realized the pendulum had swung too far,” Anderson, the Big 12's coordinator of officiating, told his crews during a College Football Officiating clinic Saturday. “We ended up becoming the focal point of ‘C'mon, man' (on ESPN). If it's going to get us on ‘C'mon, man,' we don't want to make that call.”

There still will be some c'mon, man calls this season. A new NCAA rule makes excessive celebration a spot foul, which means if you taunt or showboat before the ball has reached the end zone, it's a live-ball penalty. No touchdown.

But that's perfectly OK. The NCAA's original intent was justified. Rid the sport of knuckleheaded acts. No pointing at opponents. No holding the ball in the direction of foes. No spiking the ball (that means you, Kenny Stills). No high-stepping (especially facing a 34-6 deficit, Ryan Broyles). No running parallel to the goal line just for fun, before entering the end zone (what were you thinking, Justin Blackmon?)

Heck, Blackmon's play from the Alamo Bowl is part of the NCAA instructional video for officials. Blackmon was not penalized on the play, but Rogers Redding, the sport's national coordinator, said Blackmon deserved not just one penalty, but two, since after entering the end zone, he went to the stands and performed for the crowd. Two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a single game means automatic ejection.

Riding herd on those kinds of actions is perfectly reasonable. But penalizing players for spontaneous, quick actions of exuberance? That doesn't help the game.

“Let the spontaneous stuff go,” Anderson told his officials. “One quick finger up? Leave that stuff alone.

Stick the ball at ‘em? Bang ‘em. Go punch the goal post? Absolutely? The other stuff? Let's stay away.”

The K-State play “doesn't rise to the level of unsportsmanlike. Let's get back to doing this with common sense.”

The NCAA started heavily enforcing taunting and showmanship several years ago. A noble cause. But the policing went too far. And was too capricious.

“It's been so inconsistent so many years,” said Ken Rivera, the Mountain West Conference coordinator of officiating.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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