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Referees focus on taunting this college football season
When North Dakota State defensive back Josh Gatlin began pointing at the Fargodome crowd seven yards before the end zone, the interception return for a touchdown against South Dakota State may have been called back under a new college football rule this year.
Any show of excessive celebration – which in itself could be a source of debate in referee judgment – will, starting this fall, be a live ball penalty and the ball will be placed at the spot of the infraction.
In Gatlin’s case, as routine as the last seven yards of his touchdown run may have seemed, it’s likely it would now fall under the guise of the NCAA’s enhanced “taunting” rule with the biggest change being the enforcement of it.
The previous rule was a dead ball foul and the 15-yard penalty was assessed on the extra point or kickoff. Now the six points will be taken off the board and the Bison would have had first-and-10 at the 22-yard line with a 15-yard penalty instead of a 31-14 lead.
A taunting infraction called after a touchdown has been scored will continue to result in the penalty being assessed on the extra point or kickoff.
It’s something the Bison will address in fall practice, which begins later this week.
“Guys need to recognize the severity of this penalty,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. “We haven’t had much of an issue with it, but certainly we want to make sure a call like this will not be put in a gray area.”
The change was approved in 2010, but the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel decided to wait a year before instituting it. The NCAA cited examples such as pointing the football at the stands or high-stepping into the end zone. It could be as simple as pointing a finger toward the sky, or in NDSU’s case, the roof of the Fargodome.
There are sure to be varying degrees of interpretation, although Missouri Valley Football Conference referee Justin Ingalls says the rule is “very, very clearly defined.”
“Anything that is prolonged and excessive and calls attention to the individual is going to be a foul,” he said.
And that includes pointing. “That would fall under the category of calling attention to yourself,” Ingalls said.
Ingalls said the rule has the complete cooperation of college football coaches, saying they are willing to take the excessive celebration out of the game and “acting like we’ve been there before.”
Count Bohl as somebody who agrees, although his support level is “slightly in favor.”
“The pendulum swings and sometimes the pendulum swings too far,” he said. “We want to ensure the integrity and character of the game … but this could have a big impact on the game. I felt the rule before was pretty significant.”
Baylor University head coach Art Briles, for instance, told the Daily Texan newspaper “If you’ve ever watched Edwin Moses run hurdles, he’s not low-stepping when he crosses the finish line. His knees are up and he’s stepping long and he’s stepping pretty. You know I’d hate for a line judge to interpret running like that as taunting.”
There are two other new rules this fall. A 10-second clock rundown option could further penalize a team that commits a penalty in the final minute of either half. The opponent will get the option of taking the yardage plus the 10 seconds off the clock, taking the yardage only or declining both.
Also, blocking below the waist was further clarified and is illegal except in the following instances, according to the NCAA:
“Wide receivers more than seven yards from the center at the snap of the ball can block below the waist only against a player facing him or toward the nearest sideline. Running backs/receivers in the backfield and outside the tackle box area (the area five yards on either side of the center) or players in motion can blow below the waist only on players facing them or toward the nearest sideline.”
By Jeff Kolpack, INFORUM