The University of Washington had developed a habit of leading games early then collapsing late...until Brigham Young University rolled into Seattle on Sept. 6.
Trailing by a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Jake Locker's legs and right arm led the Washington Huskies on a 76-yard, 18-play drive into the end zone.
The final play of the drive started from the BYU 3, with under 10 seconds remaining in the game. Locker took off up the middle, cut to his left, made a few guys miss and dove into the end zone to set up the game-tying extra point. Locker flipped the ball into the air and celebrated with this teammates.
But not so fast... Locker got flagged with a 15-yard Unsportsmanlike Conduct Penalty for "Celebration." BYU accepted the penalty and the Huskies were forced to kick a 35 yard PAT, which was blocked and the Cougars won the game 28-27.
Pac-10 officials claim they are required to throw the flag as the Celebration Element of Unsportsmanlike Conduct is a point of emphasis this season. This has been drilled into the heads of the referees all summer for the 2008 season.
Larry Farina says that by the letter of the law he had no choice but to throw the flag on Locker because he threw the ball "high into the air." They've also made the claim that this was not a judgment call.
Let's look at Locker's actions and see if they should have been deemed unsportsmanlike. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igjgUKP3Uhc
This fan video shows that the ball landed almost EXACTLY where Jake Locker popped up and flipped the ball into the air.
You can see that as Locker rose from the ground his body's motion acted like a whip so that when he flipped the ball into the air, it went higher than it normally would have gone if he were simply standing there flipping the ball up.
The rule, Rule 9, Section 2, Article 1, Section C, reads: that "throwing the ball high into the air" is an unsportsmanlike act. The rule also states that the player "must return the ball to an official or leave it near the dead-ball spot."
How was Referee Larry Farina wrong BY THE LETTER OF THE LAW:
- First of all, it is a judgment call. Someone has to judge how high is "high" as it's not defined in the rule. Strike 1.
- Secondly, Locker did not "throw." The throwing motion, defined, is to "propel from the hand by a sudden forward motion or straightening of the arm and wrist: to throw a ball." The ball was not thrown; it was flipped upward. Strike 2.
- Thirdly, the ball hit the shoulder of the player next to Locker, three seconds later, as they celebrated. He returned the ball to near the dead-ball spot. Strike 3.
Following the game ESPN analysis, Lou Holtz, had this to say: "They say put the ball down or hand it to the official; everybody I see takes the ball and rolls it out. Nobody puts the ball down, nobody hands it to the official. 50 percent of the kids will roll the ball away from them. By that definition, that should be a penalty also."
Lou Holtz is right and wrong. The standard has been set. The Ohio State Buckeyes, for years now, have been handing the ball directly to the nearest official then turning and celebrating with their teammates. This is a video of Oregon Ducks receiver Chris Harper handing off the ball to the ref:
But Holtz is also correct in saying that players regularly DO NOT give the ball to the refs or leave it near the dead-ball spot. By definition, in this video,
Jaison Williams of Oregon should have also been flagged for a penalty. Williams runs the ball farther away from the dead-ball spot than how high Locker's ball went into the air. He drops the ball 40 feet away.
Isn't dropping the ball 40 feet away just as bad as Jake Locker's game-altering infraction? Shouldn't the ref have had no option but to flag Williams? Where's the consistency of being required to enforce this rule? Clearly the Pac-10 screwed this one up.
There would be three or four calls a game for guys not giving the ball to the ref or not dropping the ball.
If the officials had been consistent the first week of the season with the Jaison Williams call, Jake Locker would have been better versed. This is a colossal failure on the Pac-10 officiating crew and it will, no doubt, turn out to be a career-altering penalty for Ty Willingham.