The Excessive Celebration Rule in College Football is Insulting to the Brain

Football: Jets-v-Eagles, Sep 2009 - 29

Image by Ed Yourdon via Flickr

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. 

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8 thoughts on “The Excessive Celebration Rule in College Football is Insulting to the Brain

  1. I agree with Disalvo on the Excessive Celebration rule – it should be changed to reflect a penalty only when it is clearly taunting of the other team or one of their players, not just celebrating a score. However, the example Disalvo used, the Georgia/LSU game, insinuated that calling that penalty against Georgia was the reason they lost. That is not the case. On the ensuing kickoff the LSU receiver ran the ball back to the 48 yard line of Georgia from his own 20/25, then LSU drove down the field and scored. That had nothing to do with the penalty, but the determination the LSU players, specifically Charles Scott. Scott was also called for excessive celebration after his touchdown for just raising his arms, again a stupid call. LSU then kicked from their own 15 and Georgia had another chance to go for the win. That drive was stopped by an interception. Both of celebration penalties were uncalled for, but neither of them determined the game. The teams on the field did that, not the referees.

  2. zonkme, thanks for the comment but I must respectfully disagree. The reason the LSU kickoff receiver got the ball on the 25 was because of the penalty, otherwise he’d have been catching the ball closer to his endzone and the subsequent Charle Scott run (which I admit was excellent) might never have happened. You’re right in a larger sense — it’s impossible to know what would or would not happen if one thing in a game is changed, but my point is: let play on the field decide 100% what happens, not 80% and 20% to a bad call by the refs.

  3. I’ve always hated the Washington Huskies, but I’ll admit that they got very screwed last year against BYU when they essentially lost the game because of that call. It should be used to punish grossly disrespectful conduct, but not celebration itself.

  4. I am so glad that I found this article. I totally agree with Disalvo. I was also watching this game and I am an Alabama fan. (I’ll see you in Atlanta in a few months, Disalvo)That penalty totally changed the dynamic of the game and was completely uncalled for.

    Although no one can say for certain whether or not it actually cost UGA the game, it definitely worked against them to a great degree.

    The thing that really gets me is the inconsistency from one officiating crew to another. There were so many things that were clearly in violation of this stupid rule that were not called that it makes this an even bigger deal.

    Get your act together NCAA.

  5. Sara — yeah, the Huskies got screwed, and every year at least one, usually more, teams get screwed by this ridiculous penalty. I agree: gross misconduct, like blatant taunting, fine.

    rcotner — Great point, it’s applied entirely inconsistently. The whole point of instant review was to remove inconsistency from important calls, and yet the NCAA empowers refs to make THIS silly call whenever they feel like it, and it can change the game as much as anything that gets reviewed.
    See you in Atlanta in November!

  6. regarding “excessive celebration”: I absolutely agree…its a hideous misinterpretation of the original intent. In the 70’s, many professionals used a touchdown as a platform to celebrate with “watusi” style dances. The curtailment of those practices, once refered to as “nigger dances”, has evolved or shall we say disintergrated to grossly exaggerated hysteria on the part of officials across the country.

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