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SEC OFFICIALS, IT'S TIME TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL
October 8, 2009

SCS.com The prelude to perhaps the most anticipated weekend in Southeastern Conference play, a defensive slugfest went into the fourth quarter between the hedges with Georgia leading 7-6. A flurry of activity excited the fans as LSU grabbed the lead, then Georgia drove right back down the field to get the go-ahead score at 13-12. However, WR A.J. Green was jubilant at the tieing score and jumped in the air into a teammate and then looked at the crowd for no more than a second as he followed his team back to the Georgia sideline. The SEC officials threw the flag for excessive celebration, which set up LSU with great field position and the Bayou Bengals took advantage, driving for the winning score. Of course the SEC officials then threw another excessive celebration flag on LSU RB Charles Scott for pointing to the sky after he scored in what appeared to be a traditional tribute to God. However, Georgia could not capitalize on their own good field position with 45 seconds left. So the Bulldogs lost a game they thought they had wrapped up in part due to an excessive celebration flag.

Let's review the NCAA excessive celebration rule. NCAA Football Rule 9-2 prohibits "any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player attempts to focus attention upon himself." the way we parse rules and statutes in the legal business is piece by piece. There are two components that must be present to throw the flag. First, the players must commit an act that is either delayed from the play, excessive, prolonged, or clearly choreographed. For Mr. Green, the celebration was immediate, impromptu, and short, which really only leaves the vague "excessive" category. The second requirement is that the act focuses attention on the player himself. The SEC officials and apparently the conference believe that the half-a-second glance was drawing attention to himself in an "excessive" manner. So Mr. Green gets stuck as a scapegoat for the Georgia fanbase and the SEC dreams of better days ahead.

Not so fast my friend! The SEC prides itself on being the best brand of college football in the country, having the best athletes from the most fertile recruiting grounds and parlaying it into three straight national championships. If the SEC is the best football in the country, they have to hire a caliber of official that will be as close to perfection as possible. The SEC cannot allow the best teams in the country play a 59 minute battle and decide the game for them. Yes, Georgia could have stepped up and made big plays to stop LSU, and yes LSU could have driven down 80-85 yards for the winning score. However, the momentum is swept out from under a team's feet when they are penalized so heavily, and a short field with only a field goal to get is a minor task. While you must overcome adversity every week, there should not be adversity of this level to begin with at the end of a game. For the best conference in America, that's simply unacceptable.

Although relying on the text seems like a swell way to operate, when the text is unclear (and excessive is unclear), the law often turns to legislative intent or the intent behind the people who enacted the rule. In the early 1990's, the NCAA rules committee was worried about the "all about me" culture rising in the NFL and wanted to curb that individualist behavior before it tainted the games. However, celebrating with teammates is not supposed to be a penalty under the rules according to those who wrote it. Unless a team choreographs or works together to go over the line (and Georgia should know something about this with the Florida shenanigans in 2007), the flag should stay in the official's pocket. In the case of Mr. Green on Saturday, he went immediately to teammates, gave the ball to the nearby official or tried to, and glanced at the crowd who was understandably going crazy after the important score. This is not even close to what the writers of the rule intended. In fact, it is precisely the type of actions that were considered alright. If you are going to throw the flag on Mr. Green, you might as well just change the rule and say teams who go ahead in the fourth quarter must kick off from the 15 yard line automatically. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

With mega-games on the schedule for the rest of the season but especially this week with LSU-Florida and Mississippi-Alabama, now is the time for the SEC to admit some fault and get the rule right. For the sake of allowing the most deserving team to advance to the national title game, the officials need to come to a better consensus on the rule because the SEC champion has to be legitimate. To save the SEC the time and training, here's the best guideline I can offer. Look at the other major money sport in college, basketball. Although coaches beg for consistency from officials and rightfully so, in basketball the deal is that a ticky-tack level of contact will be called all game until the final few minutes, where incidental contact is just a part of the game. This is a system that is not quite consistent, but accepted by all because everyone has adjusted to it. This makes even more sense in this case because when will emotions run the highest but in the fourth quarter in a close game? The mere fact that collegiate athletes celebrate with their teammates instead of dance around like Ocho Cinco morons should be more than enough to pass muster in such a celebratory moment. So my tip: allow more leeway in these close games late because it's highly unlikely that players will be drawing attention to themselves rather than just taking in the awesome moment like Mr. Green probably was.

Not that what Mr. Scott did was all that more offensive. Officials will never admit to it, but there are lots of make-up calls made and this was at least consistent with the ticky-tack standard set against Georgia two minutes before. However, nothing could right the wrongs that had been set on the Bulldogs. So as much as the SEC will deny any wrongdoing and try to save face, the fact of the matter is that the SEC officials blew it on the big national stage for millions to see. Next time, it might happen to Alabama or Florida, and then it will be a much bigger deal. College football needs to scrap the rule or find an understanding like basketball if this is how the rule is going to be enforced. However, this was not quite the strangest occurrence from the past weekend.

As it turns out, a letter from former Oregon RB LaGarrette Blount's student email address arrived this week at the Oregon student newspaper. The apology contained therein was published and it sounded nice, but you cannot tell me blount waited five weeks and them wrote lines like "There is no justification for my behavior, not the heat of the moment, not the agony of defeat, and deifnitely not anything said or done by an opponent." This letter suspiciously arrives right when coach Chip Kelly announces that Blount may be allowed to get back on the field if he meets some stringent internal requirements and if this is approved by the Pac-10. While I seriously doubt Blount will ever do anything other than practice the rest of the season, this is the second time Chip Kelly has done something a little questionable (the first being sending a check refunding travel expenses for one unhappy fan who went to Boise). However, in this case, I think this is a genius plan to allow Blount to redeem himself at least in the eyes of the insiders and the pro scouts. While Blount will probably still take a financial hit for his actions, this is an appropriate gesture from the best role model Blount has. Now about that letter, that cheapens the whole situation because there's no way it looks written by Blount, and that makes him seem insincere. So a nice try, but please learn how to apologize without a team of ghostwriters. You are a college student, not the president of the United States.

It's a good thing last weekend was quiet on the gridiron, as now we have so many great games to look forward to and hot issues already discussed. Although we can only cover the top three games of the week, special mention goes to the next best three this week. Had Michigan not lost to MSU in overtime, there's no doubt the primetime showdown with undefeated Iowa would be in the top three, but that loss means this game is just a good Big Ten battle. Boston College made a statement by beating inconsistent Florida State last week, but the sledding gets much tougher as league favorite Virginia Tech hosts the Eagles in a rematch of the past two ACC Championship games. And to top that off, Thursday night we have a crucial Big XII North battle between division favorites Nebraska and Missouri. Those three games could have been the top three last week, but alas, the spotlight is bigger elsewhere this Saturday.

The first game of the week is Wisconsin at Ohio State. Only two weeks into conference play, only three teams remain undefeated in conference play: Iowa at 1-0, and these two teams at 2-0. Last year's game was a classic and Buckeye QB Terrelle Pryor had his first shining moment in leading a comeback touchdown drive with a minute left. The Wisconsin defense has not been truly tested yet this season, so expect the Buckeyes to stay on track offensively with the rushing of Brandon Saine and the dual-threat capabilities of Pryor. The other side of the match up is far more compelling though, as dominant Wisconsin RB John Clay takes on the OSU defense. Ohio State has one of the best run defenses in the country, and they have not allowed any running back to go for over 100 yards since Joe McKnight ran all over them in last year's USC game. Ohio State will be starting one backup at defensive tackle, which could make a huge difference. However, expect the Buckeyes to defend the home turf against the very game Badgers. Ohio State takes the outright conference lead with a 10 point win.

The second game of the week is Alabama visiting Mississippi. Alabama rolled over Virginia Tech and has not stopped since, while Mississippi is looking to recover from a couple very mediocre performances and a loss two weeks ago. The Rebel defense will be better than any other unit QB Greg McElroy and the Tide offense has seen all year. The Rebels have a strong defensive line that will not give McElroy much time to pick apart the Ole Miss secondary. Rebels QB Jevan Snead has had two weeks to forget with a loss at South Carolina and three interceptions last weekend. Alabama likely does not stack up equally in terms of defensive talent with Ole Miss, but the Crimson Tide is stronger than what Snead has faced recently. A game like this turns on who can control the clock with good defense and a good running game. In this case, Alabama has a major advantage with RB Mark Ingram and RB Trent Richardson. Look for Alabama to be challenged but pull away late for a 13 point win.

the top game of the week is an easy choice, as undefeated LSU hosts undefeated Florida in a primetime battle. Returning Heisman winners have been very banged up this season, and the biggest question going into this game is whether fourteen days was enough for Tim Tebow to come back from a brutal fall and concussion at Kentucky. The winner of this game has won the BCS National Championship three years running, and all early indications point towards a similar path for the winner this year. The Gators boast one of the nation's best offensive attacks with or without Tebow, but the Bayou Bengal defense is solid enough to step up and make the sledding difficult. If backup John Brantley must take the start at quarterback in the most hostile of environments, expect a much more conservative approach from Urban Meyer. On the other side of the ball, LSU has struggled in every phase of the offensive game but has managed to get by. It appears that RB Charles Scott finally got rolling late against Georgia, and he will be a focal point of the Tiger offense. If Tim Tebow plays even one half, LSU will be exposed and will not be able to keep up. I think he will do just that, and so the Gators survive and advance by a 17 point margin.

2009 GOTW Record: 6-9
Last Week: 1-2 (this trend is awful)

Fitz Top 10 - Week 5
1. Alabama
2. Texas
3. Florida
4. TCU
5. Boise State
6. Cincinnati
7. LSU
8. USC
9. Ohio State
10. Virginia Tech

Just Missed: South Florida, Missouri, Iowa, Oregon, Penn State

An absolutely mammoth weekend of college football led by late afternoon and primetime games in two of the most popular conferences in America. We will know a lot more about our top ten teams after this weekend, which will finally allow us to get a handle on how the back half of the season will play out. I personally will be taking in the Wisconsin-Ohio State game at the Horseshoe, so look for my story on Gameday in Columbus Ohio at the end of the weekend. Have a fantastic weekend wherever you find yourself this gameday.

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