I’m a college football fan, and I’m annoyed. I’ve been watching games for 20+ years–in person, on TV, any way I can– and though I love the game, I just can’t stomach the NCAA’s rule against players showing emotion on the field. They call this rule “excessive celebration” and when violated it results in an “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty of 15 yards. That’s the same level of penalty for flagrantly grabbing a player’s facemask or punching another player in the face.
Yesterday I watched a game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the LSU Tigers. I’m a Florida Gators fan, so I have no love lost for either of those teams, but it was a great game nonetheless…until the last couple minutes of the 4th quarter. Georgia needed a touchdown to win, and with amazing precision they drove the ball down the field and scored on an incredible pass to their star receiver (who had to leap a couple feet above the defender to grab the ball).
The Georgia players were ecstatic. They’d done exactly what they needed to do to win and everyone was hugging the receiver and jumping around like you’d expect. And then, a yellow flag flew through the air in the general direction of the celebration. Penalty — 15 yards, to be assessed on the kickoff. That resulted in LSU getting great field position on the next possession and, with little more than a minute left, scoring to win the game.
This is pure insanity. Someone needs to inform the NCAA that Descartes was wrong — we are not of two distinct natures. The rational mind does not operate apart from visceral emotions. When something exciting happens, we experience a cocktail rush of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine that makes us want to jump, laugh, high five, name it. Nothing else should be expected. The idea that a player, after doing something amazing on the field, can immediately quell his emotional response is nothing short of silly.
Message to the NCAA: that’s not how our brains work. We’re a volatile mixture of reason and emotion, and our brains ebb and flow on a sea of chemical response. If we’re going to pretend that humans can flick a switch to turn off visceral reaction, then perhaps zombies would be a better choice to play sports.
In addition, isn’t being excited an essential part of playing (and watching) team sports? These players weren’t taunting anyone, they weren’t rubbing it in the opposing team’s face — they were just happy to score. But since the NCAA perceives human emotion in robotic terms, being happy is worthy of a penalty.
If for no other reason than to pay respect to the true nature of our brains, this ridiculous rule must be changed. Surely someone in the upper echelon of the NCAA can see that empowering their referees to change the outcome of games based on a thoroughly erroneous principle is just wrong.
If anyone at that level in the NCAA is reading this, I urge you, stop the insanity.