Monday, October 26, 2009

Old White Men and the Rules of the Game

Hatless Cody leaves field following block (AP Photo)>

I don't generally care to comment on college football officiating because, first, it's futile; second, it sounds like sour grapes; and third, it just deepens my frustration with it. But Saturday, when Tennessee came back against top-ranked Alabama--a team prohibitively favored to win--and finished within a blocked field on he last play of the game of winning, I couldn't shut up.

The Southeastern Conference, where these teams play, has had a season of bad calls on important plays in crucial national games. Each time, the higher-ranked team was the beneficiary either of a call not made or one made dramatically incorrectly. This is important to know because the conference is generally considered the country's strongest and having undefeated or nearly-undefeated teams at the top is important to that image.

Last week, an officiating crew was suspended until mid-November because of a bad call. Calls have helped Florida (No. 1 in the BCS ratings), Alabama (No. 1, in the AP Poll) and LSU (No. 4)--the league's highest rated teams--win close games. Yesterday, Florida used a bad call (one that was clearly bad, but not changed upon review) to beat Mississippi State. Arkansas was victimized late against Florida. Georgia was beaten by LSU a couple of weeks ago when it scored late, was called for a foul for excessive celebration--which all agree wasn't there--and the penalty led to LSU's winning points.

Alabama legitimately blocked the Tennessee field goal on what turned out to be the game's last play Saturday. That's not the problem. The lineman who blocked the kick--a 352-pound kid called "Mount" Cody--was so excited with the block (his second of the quarter) that he ran off the field before the play was over, stripping his helmet and throwing it in the process. That's a violation of the sportsmanship standard and should have resulted in a personal foul penalty. There was simply no question that was the case, but it wasn't called. (In defense of the officials, I don't think I would have called it in Tuscaloosa, either, but that's another seminar.)

The rule, like the excessive celebration rule, is stupid and racist. It was implemented by white officials some years ago when Black kids began celebrating in ways those officials thought unacceptable. It was a cultural expression by the players, one the old white men didn't understand and couldn't accept. I despise the rule mostly, though, because it strips the game of joy. These old men are asking 18-year-old kids to restrain their celebrations at the biggest moment of their young lives and if they don't, they get a severe penalty that all-too-often costs their teams dearly.

All that said, if the rule is being enforced, it should have been enforced against Cody and Tennessee should have kicked again from much closer to the goal line. Maybe Cody would have blocked it again--and given the recent history, the potential was good--but that's not the refs' call. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of the unimaginative mind, but in officiating, it is necessary and desirable.

So today, the Southeastern Conference doesn't come out with a statement of its officials' mistake; it issues a sanction against the Tennessee coach for bringing the incident to its attention. These white guys are unreal--or, as an old girlfriend once said, "White men are from outerspace. Swear to God! It's the only explanation."

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