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October 16, 2009

Mailbag: Time to stop the celebration penalties?

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Someone once said rules were made to be broken.

That may indeed be the case, but there usually is a price to be paid for breaking rules. Maybe it's a fine or a loss of privileges. In college football, it's yardage. And 15 yards is the penance for the most egregious transgressions.

The trouble is defining those transgressions. Holding, grabbing the face mask and blocks in the back are easily identified. Others aren't so clear-cut.

For instance, should players be penalized for showing emotion and excitement?

Of course, the answer is no. Yet, it happens, and often with an unfair affect on the game.

That's a topic to ponder in this week's mailbag.

Time for change

From: Ron in Lincolnton, Ga.: Should the NCAA rules committee toss out the celebration penalty?

I think so.

My understanding is that the rule was imposed to penalize excessive celebrations. The key word here is "excessive." Officials seem to have difficulty discerning the difference in what is excessive and what isn't.

Two weeks ago, Arkansas State linebacker Demario Davis somersaulted into the end zone to add panache to a 75-yard interception return against Iowa. That drew a 15-yard penalty.

That makes sense.

College football wants to maintain a measure of sportsmanship that's gone from the NFL. So, the rule is in place in an attempt to prevent players from drawing attention to themselves or showing up an opponent.

To me, an act like Davis' is selfish. By unnecessarily somersaulting over the goal line, he drew a penalty that forced Arkansas State to kick off from the 15 and helped give Iowa excellent field position in a close game.

Iowa took over at its 42 after the ensuing kickoff and drove for a field goal that eventually proved the difference in a 24-21 victory.

Players such as Davis need to use common sense and realize childish antics like that take away from their big play because it compromised the team's chance to win.

Unfortunately, officials cannot be counted on to use common sense, either.

Remember a year ago, when Washington quarterback Jake Locker scored a late touchdown that cut BYU's lead to one in the final seconds. In his excitement, Locker flipped the ball skyward and drew a 15-yard penalty, which was marked off on the extra-point attempt. BYU blocked the extra point and won 28-27.

Of course, it could be argued that Washington should have converted the kick anyway. Or that BYU might have blocked the short PAT, too. But the point is that the game was altered for no reason. Locker didn't try to draw attention to himself and he wasn't showing up an opponent. He was just demonstrating natural emotion and excitement.

We saw a similar bonehead call in the SEC two weeks ago, when Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green was flagged after catching a touchdown pass that gave the Bulldogs a 13-12 lead over LSU with just more than a minute to play.

Green, who was understandably happy, celebrated with his teammates and pointed to cheering Georgia fans in the end zone. He taunted no one. Yet, an official saw that as unsportsmanlike conduct.

Given advantageous field position after the kickoff, LSU drove for the winning touchdown.

Maybe LSU would have scored anyway. But the game was altered unnecessarily.

Normally, officials won't acknowledge mistakes. But the call against Green was so bad that the SEC admitted the error.

I understand that officials will miss calls. I understand that judgment calls will be debated. I understand that sometimes an official will make a call on what he "thinks" he sees rather than on what actually occurred.

But I cannot understand how officials can penalize natural outbursts of emotions that clearly aren't unsportsmanlike, especially at critical junctures.

The rule is a good idea. But it should be repealed if officials can't determine which celebrations are excessive and which aren't. Apparently, some of them can't.

Wrong Longhorn?

From: Eric in Waco, Texas: What will it take for Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley to get into the Heisman discussion? He's averaging 116.6 receiving yards and 60.6 return yards per game. Will he ever get any Heisman love or will Texas' Heisman hopes live and die with Colt McCoy?

Shipley definitely deserves some consideration.

The three receivers who have won the Heisman -- Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers, Notre Dame's Tim Brown and Michigan's Desmond Howard -- were great kick returners, too. Shipley definitely qualifies there.

After five games, Shipley ranks second in the nation with 9.4 receptions per game, seventh with 166.6 receiving yards per game and fourth in punt returns with an 18.9 average, which includes two brought back for touchdowns. In fact, he has scored four touchdowns on plays that covered at least 39 yards.

That's argument for Shipley. Here are the arguments against him.

Four of the Longhorns' five opponents rank 92nd or worse in the nation in pass defense. The other, Colorado, is ranked 64th. Shipley, who has 32 catches in the past three games, hasn't played against an elite defense.

That will change Saturday against Oklahoma, which has a strong defense and is among the country's best in punt coverage.

Last season, Shipley had 11 catches for 112 yards against OU; he also had a 96-yard kickoff return for a score. If he has another strong game, he could get into the Heisman discussion.

But if McCoy also has a strong game, he'll likely remain Texas' top candidate.

The real title game

From: Greg in Orlando, Fla.: If Florida and Alabama win out and play in the SEC championship game, do you think it will take a lot of steam out of the BCS title game? This also assumes that Alabama will stay the No. 2 team in the country, which is a good possibility.

Although arguments surely would be made in Austin, Los Angeles and a few other places, Alabama and Florida probably are the best two teams in the country. I'd anticipate those teams playing in the SEC championship game on Dec. 5, with the winner advancing to the BCS national championship game a month later.

But as good as those teams are and as exciting as that matchup would be, it won't render the national championship game anticlimactic.

There will be a month's worth of hype and analysis leading up to the game. There will be great story lines. The SEC again will be trumpeting its superiority. The other representative will be reminding us that its conference plays a high level of football, too.

Frankly, there doesn't appear to be a "great" team in college football this season. So, any championship matchup will be compelling.

Alabama or Florida against Texas or USC would be intriguing. Or what if an undefeated Kansas, TCU or Cincinnati had a chance to challenge a traditional power for the national title? If nothing else, the underdog element would be dramatic.

Whatever SEC team reaches the BCS championship game (assuming one does), it likely will be considered a heavy favorite to win. Just remember, though: Florida State was favored over Oklahoma in 2000, Miami was favored over Ohio State in '02, USC was favored over Texas in '05 and Ohio State was favored over Florida in '06. The underdog won all those games.

Hawkeyes' turn?

From: Patrik in Vienna: Now that it looks as if the Big Ten is shaping up as a race between Ohio State and Iowa, and with the Buckeyes' offense sputtering and the Hawkeyes' defense looking great, do you feel the Hawkeyes finally will get to a BCS bowl?

The Hawkeyes have a good chance to make their first BCS appearance since they faced USC in the 2002 Orange Bowl.

The Hawkeyes are one of nine unbeaten teams; they are ranked 12th in the coaches' poll and five of the teams ahead of them already have a loss. If the Hawkeyes keep winning, they could make giant leaps forward in the next few weeks because the teams currently ahead of them have some tough games coming up (Texas vs. Oklahoma, Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech, USC vs. Oregon and Alabama vs. LSU, to name some).

Of course, the caveat is this -- if the Hawkeyes keep winning. Iowa's next two games are on the road, against Wisconsin and Michigan State. Should the Hawkeyes win those games, I'd expect them to be unbeaten when they face Ohio State on Nov. 14.

As of now, I'd still take Ohio State over the Hawkeyes because the game is in Columbus and the Buckeyes' defense is even stronger than Iowa's. Besides, as good as Iowa's defense looks, the offense is questionable -- although tight end Tony Moeaki's return from injury definitely is a boost.

Still, Iowa's close-call wins over Northern Iowa, Arkansas State and Michigan raise some doubts that I just can't shake.

Should the Hawkeyes finish 11-1 -- and maybe even 10-2 -- they would be an attractive option for a BCS bowl because Hawkeyes fans have shown they will travel. If they finish 12-0, they will be in Pasadena, and perhaps even for the national title game.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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