The Collegian
Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Football refs: No smiles allowed

Professional referees rarely hear praise and constantly hear criticism. A good day for an official is a day in which he goes unnoticed. On a bad day, he may be the only thing people notice. But last weekend, the referees in one college football game reminded me why.

Louisiana State University and the University of Georgia were locked in a dogfight late during the fourth quarter. Neither team had scored a touchdown during the first three quarters, but as the clock headed for zero, the offenses took control. Then, with one minute and seven seconds left in the game, Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green made an impressive leaping catch to put his team ahead of the fourth-ranked Tigers 13-12.

That's when the officials ruined one of the most exciting games I've seen in a while. After Green came down with the ball, he ran to his teammates and jumped into their arms, a celebration fit for a potential game-winning grab. His teammates pushed him toward the crowd and he stared proudly at the dedicated, paying customers in the stands. He didn't dance. He didn't wave his hands. Heck, he didn't even spike the ball. Then a flag came in.

Some bonehead wearing black and white stripes decided that high-fiving your teammates and literally just staring at your fans was an excessive celebration. A 15-yard penalty to be assessed on the kickoff - in a one point game. With one minute left.

Instead of kicking off from the 30-yard line, Georgia was forced to kick off from its own 15, setting up LSU with an opportunity to get great field position. Sure enough, LSU returned the ball past midfield and into Georgia territory. Two plays later, the Tigers scored the actual game-winning touchdown.

After the game, the SEC released a statement explaining the phantom penalty call that simply said, "Following a brief team celebration, Green made a gesture to the crowd calling attention to himself." Oh, really? He made a spectacular catch at a crucial time during the game. I'm pretty sure any fan with a pulse was already paying attention to him.

Bad calls happen all the time, but it's a shame that they happen when they don't have to. It's one thing to blow a pass interference call or miss a false start, but it's a whole 'nother thing to make a game-changing call after a play is done. Thousands of people aren't paying to watch a 48-year-old accountant with a gimp throw his yellow hankie around and ruin the party.

Football has a particular problem with its officials because most of them are accountants, teachers or something else during the week. Because games are played only on the weekends, it's rare to have officials making their living off of refereeing alone. Most of these part-time pigskin police are very good, but when you leave things open to interpretation, sometimes these normal guys lose perspective on the decisions they are making.

In college and in the NFL, the big wigs in the league offices need to make a change. There is absolutely no way that what A.J. Green did after his touchdown catch should have been called a penalty, but the fact that even one official threw his flag means there is a problem with the rule.

Sports are a business and that means athletes are dealing with more than just playing the game. Not only do they have to play well, but they also have to be entertainers, ambassadors and role models.

Finding a balance between all those can't be easy, and the rules should reflect that.

I don't understand why the rule makers feel the need to be so strict. If someone scores a touchdown, he should be allowed to celebrate. He should be able to do some crazy five-second dance or raise his hands to the sky or make snow angels in the grass. It's part of the emotion of the game. It's healthy, it's entertaining and it's not hurting anyone.

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Maybe the league commissioners should ask their fans what they want. Maybe they should imagine themselves in the end zone in front of a sold-out crowd with the game-changing catch in their hands and ask themselves if they might be a little excited. Maybe then their officials wouldn't destroy the integrity of their product.

That would be worth celebrating.

Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at reilly.moore@richmond.edu

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