For as long as Byron Hanspard can remember, the Texas Tech sophomore running back has celebrated touchdowns by kneeling in the end zone and saying a prayer.
According to the NCAA's football rules committee, that action constitutes a prolonged celebration designed to bring attention to the individual and not the team. Result: a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.The rule has been on the books but hasn't been enforced. It will be this season, says the NCAA rules committee, which has distributed a videotape of acceptable and unacceptable behavior to all football-playing schools.
"That doesn't worry me," Hanspard said. "The devil still won't get any victory. God will get a double victory then. I don't know what I'm going to do, but something is going to take place, regardless of what the rules say."
The NCAA - no, it doesn't stand for No Celebration Actions by Athletes - is not taking a stand against religion. But the NCAA's 13-member football rules committee wants to put a stop to showboating, hot-dogging and camera-mugging, which the committee claims detracts from the sport's team aspects.
"We had a discussion on the prayer situation," said John Adams, the committee's secretary-editor. "A player can't do anything delayed, excessive or prolonged to draw attention to himself. We felt this was isolating a player to drawing attention to himself. We would encourage a player to go in to the team and join his teammates in prayer."
To help make its point, the committee distributed a 21-minute video, called "College Football: A Celebration of Teamwork." Video clips of 30 post-action celebrations illustrate rules written three years ago that are designed to curb excessive individual celebrations.
"The rules committee decided to make the video to clearly demonstrate what's legal and illegal," said Adams, supervisor of football officials in the Western Athletic Conference. "We hope that when the players see this video, they won't test the officials. We're hoping that players celebrate as teammates rather than as individuals."
The committee made two significant rules changes this season designed to encourage sportsmanship. First, players who remove their helmets on the field of play or outside of the team areas (except during a called timeout, to treat an injury or when given permission by an official) will be flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Second, players flagged for a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the same game will be ejected.
Two players - Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier and Bowling Green center Cal Bowers - helped the rules committee select the video clips. Both expressed concern that the committee is trying to limit the excitement of the game.
"I think what the rules committee is doing is an overreaction to the personal displays of a very few players on a few teams," Frazier wrote in a column in "The NCAA News."
The rules committee began looking at ways to emphasize sportsmanship after Miami (Fla.) routed Texas, 46-3, in the 1990 Cotton Bowl. On national television, the Hurricanes took taunting and camera-mugging to new heights.
New Miami coach Butch Davis said he has been stressing adherence to the rules committee's get-tough policy.
"They're sending a message to coaches to take a stronger role, to be in control before incidents happen," Davis said. "It really needs to lie with the coaching staff. The coaches are responsible for the performances of the players on the field."
Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley, chairman of the rules committee, said the video "helps eliminate the gray areas."
Not all coaches are sure of that.
"The video is pretty explicit about what they're going to call," said Virginia coach George Welsh, whose team opened the season yesterday with an 18-17 loss to Michigan in the Pigskin Classic. "But I think there are some areas that are pretty gray.
"I think the problem may be that some of the celebrations may not look spontaneous, but some of it is. That's going to be the hard part. If a guy struts and waves to the crowd, that's obvious. If a guy runs around and throws his arms up in the air, what do you do there? It's unfair to penalize a player for being enthusiastic."
Tech coach Spike Dykes said, "It's terrible to tell kids, `Play the game but don't have fun."'
When Southeastern Conference officiating supervisor Bobby Gaston met with his officials in late July, they voted unanimously not to call a penalty on a player who kneels in the end zone after a touchdown.
"However, the rules committee has decreed that (prayer/kneeling) individual act as being a foul," Gaston said. "We don't write 'em and we have to enforce it. One of my officials asked me where he should drop the flag in that situation. I told him, `At another official's feet."'
Gaston wants his officials to use common sense. He said he doesn't think a player should be penalized for removing his helmet when he's two steps away from crossing the sideline before reaching the bench. And if a player headed toward the end zone points at his defensive pursuer and then removes his helmet, Gaston believes that it should be one unsportsmanlike penalty, not two.
On the video, Adams explains that such a play should be called as two unsportsmanlike penalties resulting in the player's ejection. And Adams disagrees with Gaston's interpretation of the helmet rule.