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New Taunting Rule Will Compromise the Integrity of the Game

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CBS's Dennis Dodd wrote an excellent piece today on the new taunting regulations. As you probably know, a new rule is in effect this season which states that taunting penalties now occur at the spot of the foul. That means a TD could be called back if a player is flagged for taunting before he reaches the endzone. In other words, this infamous Justin Blackmon TD (:52 mark) would be brought back; Blackmon would be flagged at the beginning of his taunt (around the seven-yard line), and the fifteen-yard penalty would mean no TD and OSU ball at the 22-yard line.

Of course, egregious, potentially conflictual taunts like this one are exactly what this rule is designed to discourage. The question, though, is where to draw the line. Is Cam Newton's dive into the endzone when we visited last October taunting? What about Alshon Jeffery's wave of the ball as he completed the long TD against Tennessee? Neither play was flagged, even under the old rules. However, either one might be by another referee. What happens when such a TD is called back, particularly in a situation where it has a major impact on the outcome of the game?

Of course, coaches will be incensed, saying that a referee made a judgment call that unfairly affected the outcome of a game. Dodd rightly points out that coaches have no right to complain; they themselves voted the rule into effect. I'd like to go a step further and say what Dodd only implies when he says the rule sends mixed messages: this rule compromises the integrity of the game.

Keep reading after the jump.

The rule is a problem, of course, because it allows referees to change the outcome of the game based on judgment calls. Refs now have such a power unlike ever before. Simple expressions of emotion by adrenaline-charged college students can now be subjectively determined as grounds for taking points off the board. The good news Dodd reports, it seems, is that referees are aware--probably because they're afraid of potential death threats--of the negative consequences of misuse of their new power. As Dodd writes,

Anderson and his peers are united in trying to take the sting out of this ultimate judgment call. They say they will give players every benefit of the doubt.

Short of someone pulling out a Sharpie, it seems like they aren't going to call it.

"I want your mother who's at home on the couch to say, 'Oh my gosh, that happened on the 20-yard line. You're not going to get that score,'" Anderson said.

It would seem that this makes matters a bit better than they seem. However, it really only complicates the situation. Anderson is saying that referees are unlikely to call the penalty other than in the most outlandish circumstances. That's essentially to say that the rule is a sham. If referees aren't likely to call the penalty, why put it on the books at all?

Moreover, Anderson's statements testify to the fact that this rule is based on terribly subjective criteria. Anderson admits that when he states that he plans to give players the benefit of the doubt. What room should there be for "benefit of the doubt" in a rule? Whereas a facemasking penalty is always a facemasking penalty, a celebration penalty--now more costly than ever before--lies in a grey area. There's no concrete criteria available to determine what's celebration and what's not, and there's no integrity in a rule that can't be applied with universal applicability.

That's why this rule is going to be controversial. And the fact that referees are giving players the "benefit of the doubt" is only going to cause more of an outcry when the penalty is called. In that case, the penalized coach will be asking why his player didn't receive the benefit of the doubt that everyone else did.

The good news is that this rule will likely cause such a huge outcry the first time something controversial happens that the NCAA will be forced to rescind.