Don't you hate when a good story is botched with a bad ending?

Take, for instance, BYU's 28-27 win over Washington last Saturday in Seattle. The game had a strong storyline going for it — BYU wins a nonconference road game — but then came the worst ending since the Alamo.

And it's all the fault of the NCAA, which divorced common sense a long time ago.

To briefly reset the scene, in case you were knocked unconscious over the weekend and missed the whole thing: With scant seconds left in the game, Washington quarterback Jake Locker ran for a touchdown to cut BYU's lead to 28-27. As Locker crossed the goal line, he leaped into the arms of teammates and tossed the ball high over his shoulder. For that, he drew a 15-yard celebration penalty, leaving his team with a 35-yard extra-point kick instead of the routine 20-yarder. The attempt was blocked.

It was the talk of the sports world. Was it fair to penalize a player for that?

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has lamented that his team's performance was overshadowed by a controversial penalty because, in his words, BYU outperformed its opponent. He got that right. The best team won the game. BYU piled up 475 yards and had two scoring drives of more than 80 yards.

The outcome was right; the way it ended was wrong.

All this silliness called the celebration penalty began in the early 1990s. They should have gotten it right by now. Then again, this is the NCAA, which can

make computer science out of trying to decide a national champion.

The original intent of the so-called celebration rule was not to rid the game of celebrations, which are an inherent part of an emotional game; it was to rid the game of unsportsmanlike conduct, specifically taunting and celebrations that might be considered taunting and bad sportsmanship, such as spiking the ball or throwing the ball in the face of an opponent or any planned, prolonged act.

Clearly, anyone with any common sense could see that Locker's celebration was no act of taunting. It was quick and spontaneous, and no opponent was near him when he tossed the ball. BYU players and coaches said they didn't even see the toss. Almost no one even heard of the part of the rule that specifically outlaws throwing the ball high in the air. It never occurred to anyone that it was a penalty.

Locker himself told AP reporter Tim Booth, "I got to the sideline and heard the official say there was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and I was like 'Who was that on? He must have done something stupid.' Then he said it was on No. 10, and I was like, 'Gosh, what did I do?"'

Much of the debate has focused on whether the referee should have made the call. Should it have been a judgment call, or was the ref forced make the call because a rule is a rule, as so many were saying. Predictably, Mendenhall said the referee had no choice but to enforce the rules. Referee Larry Farina said, "It was not a judgment call."

That point is debatable, if somewhat irrelevant in the broader context of the issue. David Parry, national coordinator for college football officiating, told AP football writer Ralph Russo that the referee can use his own judgment in the matter.

"I think it's safe to say on emotional moments officials might become a little more lenient," he said.

It says everything about the situation that even officials can't agree on this matter.

It recalls an incident during last spring's NBA playoffs, when the Lakers' Derek Fisher made an obvious foul against the Spurs' Jon Barry in the game's closing seconds, and the referees ignored it, even though no one disputed that a foul had been committed. The NBA's explanation was that a referee could use his own judgment in that situation, because the game was on the line.

Which is all messed up. Why have rules?

But it is part of the problem, too. By spelling out the letter of the law in subjective matters of sportsmanship — i.e., no "throwing the ball high into the air" — the NCAA threatens the referee's ability to use judgment, and judgment is required in this case to determine intent. Was it taunting? Was it a prolonged and choreographed celebration? Was it in an opposing player's face? Was it spontaneous? Was it angry?

Similar problems with the celebration rule have arisen ever since the rule began to be enforced in 1993. BYU head coach LaVell Edwards, who possesses more common sense than any man alive ever, stated this about the celebration rule at the time, and it is still applicable today:

"The problem they've been having is the talking and the taunting, the stuff Miami does. Some people think the old rules were not strong enough. I totally disagree. The new rule is a joke. We already have rules for taunting. All they had to do was enforce them. ... We've got everything there we need (in the rules). We didn't need the new rule."

Let's throw a flag on the NCAA for excessive rule-making.


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