Georgia vs. Tennessee
When: 12:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Knoxville, Tenn.
TV, radio: Peachtree TV; 103.7-FM, 106.1-FM
Web site: www.georgiadogs.com
ATHENS — The NFL is the "No Fun League?" Hey, at least a player can still do the Lambeau Leap.
Don’t even think about trying such a move in the college game. In fact, some players and coaches are starting to wonder if NCAA actually stands for "No Celebrating At All" — especially when they see teams being flagged for what appear to be nothing more than youthful exuberance or the slightest of gestures.
Such a call happened this past weekend. Georgia’s star receiver, A.J. Green, was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after making a brilliant catch for the go-ahead touchdown against No. 4 LSU with just over a minute remaining.
The Bulldogs had to back up 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff, the Tigers returned it into Georgia territory and wound up scoring a TD that gave them a 20-13 victory. The Southeastern Conference later conceded that Green did nothing wrong, but the call has rekindled debate over a rule that was designed to prevent over-the-top showboating.
"It’s almost like you’re not supposed to do anything," Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran said Tuesday.
Bulldogs coach Mark Richt went so far as to say it might be time to modify the rule so it doesn’t choke off all the emotion in an emotion-filled game.
"We’ve got to be careful not to take the joy out of the game for the players, their ability to celebrate when they do something good," he said.
In an interesting twist, the rule was put in place in the mid-1990s when then-Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley was head of the NCAA rules committee. Fourteen years later, the now-retired Dooley still believes it’s a much-needed roadblock to some of the antics that go on in the NFL — even though he was at Saturday night’s game cheering on the Bulldogs.
"A player such as T.O. has no place in college football," he said, referring to flamboyant receiver Terrell Owens, who took end zone celebrations to new levels. "It’s a good rule for college football. I think it has really helped us from going down the path we were going. There’s no telling what we would have today if we didn’t have that rule."
Dooley said the football coaches’ association supported the rule wholeheartedly when it was first passed, but it hardly has unanimous praise.
"I’ve always thought they shouldn’t have put it in because you give the referee too much discretion," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "I don’t like the penalty, but it’s in there."
The rule, which falls under the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, basically covers any actions that are directed at the fans, draw attention to an individual player or taunt an opponent. While videos have been distributed by conference officials to show what isn’t allowed, there’s still plenty of room for discretion.
Green was penalized when the back judge mistakenly thought he made a gesture toward the stands while breaking away from a group of teammates. Upon further review from a different angle, SEC director of officials Rogers Redding said it looked as though the receiver merely stumbled on his way back to the sideline, but his motion was misinterpreted.
"I don’t have any doubt the official reacted to what he saw in an honest way," Redding said. "This is a teachable moment, much the same as a pass interference call or a bad miss on a block below the waist is a teachable call. This is not going to be singled out by me as anything out of the ordinary for the officials, who have to make judgments on plays in the game."
What if one of those judgments winds up having an impact on a conference title? Or a national championship game?
While the call against Georgia didn’t decide the outcome — the Bulldogs bear the brunt of the blame for giving up a 40-yard return to Trindon Holliday and a 33-yard touchdown run by Charles Scott — there have been other games when a celebration penalty had a more direct impact.
Last season, Washington’s Jake Locker was penalized for throwing the ball high over his shoulder after scoring on what could have been a game-tying touchdown run with 2 seconds left against BYU. The Huskies were forced to attempt a 35-yard extra point, which was blocked by the Cougars to preserve a 28-27 victory.
"I like to play the game with emotion and it got the best of me," Locker said afterward.
Georgia receiver Tavarres King said there’s still too much uncertainty over what qualifies as a penalty. For instance, defensive players are usually given a pass when they wave their arms before a big play, trying to get the crowd to make more noise.
"I don’t know where the line goes, when it becomes wrong," King said.
Two other unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were called in the Georgia-LSU thriller. Georgia’s Orson Charles was flagged after he made a big catch over the middle, then jumped up pumping his fist. LSU’s Scott was penalized for pointing upward after his winning TD; the officials ruled he was motioning toward the crowd, the running back said he was giving tribute to a higher power.
"Honestly, it was an amazing run and I thought about it when I crossed the goal line. I was like, ‘There was only one explanation how I just did that and it was God.’ So I pointed up and I was just like, ‘Thank you,"’ he insisted. "If they don’t want us to pray or, you know, be happy about scoring, they should let us know."
The officials, Georgia quarterback Joe Cox added, need to show a little discretion before they drop the flag.
"It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to understand the situation," he said. "We’re playing the No. 4 team in the country. We’ve been struggling all game. We’re down, we’re in a hurry-up offense mode and we throw a touchdown to go up with a minute left.
"I mean, everybody is going to be excited. That’s just how it is. Our sideline went crazy. The guys out on the field went crazy. I just don’t think you can try to control that."
Dooley said there will always be mistakes made, as with any judgment call. But he thinks the rule against excessive celebrations has had a positive impact on the college game.