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The Legality Of A Pointed Finger


I'm talking about celebration: the gestures displayed when good things happen.  In the third quarter of last week's game against Syracuse, Stephfon Green ran two yards on a pitch to the right and scored a touchdown to make the score 44-6.  He pointed at something.  Penn State was penalized fifteen yards.

What exactly did Green do to trigger the penalty (and how exactly was he supposed to know he was doing this)?  That is the issue I want to take a look at.  Part of what makes college ball different from the NFL is that, at least in appearance, it's a more pure and innocent version of the game (again, appearance).  That's fine, whatever.

What makes this questionable isn't the call on the field, or the fact that the new interpretation wasn't very well communicated in the offseason.  The problem is that it's not being distributed consistently and so how in the world are the players suppose to know what the hell to think?

Green wasn't the only player pointing fingers last week:

So after pointing to the sky, twice, why was no flag thrown there?  I'm not saying one was deserved, but how can you objectively distinguish what was done in the clip above and what Green was flagged for last weekend?

And at least Green waited until the play was over to start his "celebration", at Notre Dame, this defensive player hardly makes it inside the ten yard line before beginning his points.

Again, the "unsportsmanship" quality of that player is questionable, but we are talking about consistency here, not the merit of the rule.

Paterno was clearly unhappy when Stephfon returned to the sideline after the score, but what was the guilty party's response?

According to a quote from The Daily Orange:

"I just pointed up to God thanking Him for letting me score the touchdown," Green said after the game.

Well why did the refs calling the OSU-USC game not find the same action below "unsportsmanlike"?

Again, whether Green's act was or was not unsportsmanlike conduct isn't the discussion here.  What makes this so confusing is the complete lack of consistency.  When a kid scores a touchdown and wants to express some type of excitement, he has no idea what the rules allow.  When Green went home on Saturday night and turned on ESPN, he saw over and over again that what he did was probably the exception rather than the rule.  So does getting flagged for a penalty after pointing to the sky really help curb his actions?  Or does it just make him bitter for being apparently singled out?

David Parry, the national coordinator for college football officiating, tried to help ESPN understand why the "ball toss" from week two ended up as a 15 yard penalty against Washington:

"I think what he meant is this was so obviously against the rule and flagrant you have no option but to throw a flag," Parry said.

Okay, that's fine.  It was specifically stated in the rules.  However, even when something as to the letter as that play occurs, Perry has this to add:

But even Parry conceded, "I think it's safe to say on emotional moments officials might become a little more lenient."

So depending on the emotional circumstances, refs can just ignore the rule?  And what about actions like Green's, which aren't specifically spelled out in the rules but are made as judgment calls by officials?  So now, instead of just determining if they meet some vague definition of "unsportsmanlike", that needs to be weighted against how much emotion is warranted for a specific situation?

This wouldn't be acceptable for any other penalty call ("the false start penalty was not called because, as you can see, it was really frickin loud down there"); why is it here?  Besides random acts of increased enforcement, the national coordinator for college football officiating qualifies this new initiative by saying the rules can be completely ignored if they feel like it, depending on an emotional observation that I'm sure the players interpret differently than the officials.

I'm all for keeping celebrations to a minimum.  Some of the antics in the NFL are total turn offs for a lot of us and my point isn't that the college game should allow more of that nonsense.  My point is that the rules need to be totally clear, and consistently enforced, so that the players can figure out how to follow them.