NCAA unsportsmanlike conduct rule change has coaches worried

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The Big 12 Media Days kicked off with a refresher course in the rules. The NCAA emphasized and clarified two new amendments to their “unsportsmanlike conduct” rule Monday that has some of the conference’s coaches a little peeved.

Beginning this season, unsportsmanlike conduct fouls by players will be treated as common fouls, like holding or blocking penalties are. The changes include provisions that revoke penalties against “spontaneous acts” of celebration, as well as ones that penalize any player on the field who engages in questionable conduct, not just the ball carrier. An automatic first down will be awarded to an offense whose opponent commits an unsportsmanlike infraction.

According to a release by the College Football Officiating committee, the point of the rule change is to give a player the choice — he “can score a touchdown,” or “he can taunt the opponent, but no longer can he have it both ways.”

In terms of the amendment that affects all participants on the field, NCAA Rule committee representative, Walter Anderson, quelled concerns that officials may have to watch too many players at one time.

“Officiating is all about us not watching the action of the football game, but everything happening around it,” Anderson said. “All coaches will tell you that they just want to see consistency.”

The rules would play out as such:

- If the ball is alive when a player makes a taunting gesture, then the penalty is enforced at the spot of the foul. If the taunting action occurs in the same play that a player scores a touchdown, the penalty is assessed at the spot of the foul, which could potentially revoke the touchdown.

- If a ball carrier dashes to the end zone, and in the meanwhile a blocker down field taunts an opponent in some way (by gesturing, saluting or emphatically celebrating over a blocked player, etc.) then the penalty is assessed from the spot of the foul. Baylor Bears head coach Art Briles isn’t entirely embracing the rule change.

“I do get a little concerned with the new touchdown celebration rules,” Briles said. “I’m not sure how lax they’re going to be. 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.”

As a point of reference, the game-winning touchdown that former Texas wide receiver Quan Cosby dramatically scored in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl would have likely not counted under the new amendments to the unsportsmanlike conduct rule. Cosby, unopposed, dove into the end zone in the waning seconds of the game.

The ruling would have gone either one of two ways.

First, if the field judge was unable to clearly determine where Cosby launched into the end zone, the official would rule the play a foul for unsportsmanlike conduct, but they would administer it as a dead ball foul. As a dead ball foul, the touchdown would have counted and the penalty would have been enforced on the extra point or succeeding kickoff. This was similar to the actual flag called on the play.

The second possible ruling, and the more likely of the two, would assess a 15-yard penalty from the exact spot of the foul. In Cosby’s case, it was at the 2-yard line, and the touchdown would have been reversed.