Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Celebration Time

If you don’t care about college football or about sports in general, then maybe you should skip this one.

First, some background:
BYU’s football team played Washington in Seattle on Saturday. It was a close game throughout. Near the end of the game Washington was down by seven points but was putting together a successful drive. Washington’s quarterback, Jake Locker, ran the ball into the end-zone for a touchdown with 2 seconds left on the clock. This brought Washington within one point and gave them a chance to either tie the game or go ahead (by trying for a two point conversion) on the point-after-touchdown attempt. Locker celebrated by throwing the ball into the air, jumping up and down with his teammates for a few seconds and returning to the sideline. There was no dancing, no taunting, no ball spiking, and no pulling a sharpie out of his sock to sign autographs. The officials called an “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty for the celebration, which BYU had the choice of assessing on the point-after-touchdown or on the following kickoff. BYU chose to assess the penalty on the point-after-touchdown attempt and so instead of the ball starting on the 3-yard line, it was moved back to the 18-yard line. Washington attempted to kick for the extra point, but the attempt was blocked by BYU. This essentially ended the game with BYU winning by one point, because all BYU had to do was to catch Washington’s kickoff and kneel down to let the clock run out. Also, BYU was also assessed an “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty for their celebration of the blocked kick.
After the game, the official (realizing the potential controversy for calling a penalty that possibly affected the outcome of the game) explained in a press conference that Locker broke the rules, specifically by throwing the ball into the air after the touchdown, and that they had no choice but to penalize the team – otherwise they would not be doing their jobs.
The official’s comments didn’t head off the controversy, which seems to have been pretty significant. It has bothered me for a few reasons, but the biggest is that people support their opinions with such blatantly faulty logic. By “people”, I mean sportswriters and the people who comment on their online articles. I realize that looking for logical arguments among the online comments is wishful thinking, but the sportswriters should know better. Below I will repeat several of the arguments made, along with commentary and a grade on the logic of the argument.

1. Argument: “Locker throwing the ball in the air was an emotional act. He just gave his team a chance to put the game into overtime or to win. He shouldn’t be penalized for an emotional act.”

1. Response: The idea that “emotional acts” shouldn’t be penalized is pretty stupid. So stupid, in fact, that the people who make this argument don’t even believe it. If they did, they would be also be complaining (which they aren’t) about the penalty assessed for BYU’s “emotional” celebration following the blocked kick. I suspect the real complaint these people have is more along the lines of #4.

1. Grade: 0% F

2. Argument: “Locker should not have been assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he wasn’t taunting the other team. He didn’t violate the ‘spirit of the rule’.”

2. Response: There are two ways to interpret this question. One is that the referees should not have called the penalty. Those who argue this point actually are not completely wrong because officials almost always have to use judgment when calling a penalty. However, the idea that he shouldn’t be penalized when he broke the rule (he did) because he didn’t violate the “spirit of the rule” is pretty stupid because it implies that there is some higher law of sports rules that the football rule book can only attempt to communicate in something as quaint as the English language. The rule book is the final authority; its very purpose is to eliminate the emotional and conflicting judgments participants would make based on the inconsistent “spirit of the game” ideal.

2. Grade: 20% F

3. Argument: Same as #2

3. Response: The second way to interpret this argument is that the officials were right to call the penalty, but the rule itself should be changed so that in the future there is a different definition of unsportsmanlike celebration which would cause a penalty. This is a valid point. (This is essentially the referees’ argument.) I actually agree with this one, so I am giving it my stamp of approval too. In any case, there is no logical flaw in this argument: The officials were right to apply the rule because it is their job (logical), and the rule should be changed (opinion).

3. Grade: 100% A

4. Argument: “The official shouldn’t have called the penalty because it affected the outcome of the game. Games shouldn’t be decided based on penalties and officiating.”

4. Response: This is exactly wrong. What are officials for if they don’t affect the outcome of the game? The reason officials have the power to call fouls and assess penalties is to try to offset any influence cheating would have on the outcome of the game with an opposite influence so that the outcome is as fair as possible. How that is best done is certainly debatable, but that the referees’ job to implement those rules should not be. This is an emotional argument that assumes the call was wrong in the first place. One more thing: it’s not very much of a stretch to say that if the referee had not called the penalty, that might have affected the outcome of the game. Therefore, the officials always influence the outcome by deciding when to call and when not to call a penalty.

4. Grade: 0% F

At least two of the sportwriters who have mentioned this in columns have several of these arguments mixed together. See how many you can find in this one, and in this one.

It just makes me mad that people think with their gut instead of their head. They feel something is wrong, then try to come up with reasons they should feel that way. So far, not so bad, right? Everybody does that. But then people don’t wait until they have a good reason to feel the way they do, they just go with the first thing to come to mind that explains their feelings and has a superficial logic to it. Many then argue with each other. They are somewhat surprised to find that no one is swayed by the logic of their respective (illogical) arguments, and instead of reevaluating their own arguments, they just throw insults around. Wait, I forget, are we talking about politics or sports? (Zing!) At least politics matter. If you’re going to get all worked up and emotional about something, at least it should be important. But I guess maybe my getting worked up about the reaction to the unimportant isn't really any better than getting worked up about the unimportant itself…


Julie C said...

I was watching the game on TV, in Washington, instead of reading what the sportswriters wrote about it. Of course there were calls for either side throughout the whole game, but there was the most discussion about the call against Locker.

The commentator was so upset that he burst out "And BYU should NOT have won that game!" while talking about the penalty. I was surprised about thirty seconds later when he said "And BYU SHOULD have won that game, but they should have had to win it in overtime." I'm not sure if he corrected himself or if he was told to correct himself.

Also, the TV stations kept replaying the part of Locker's celebration where he was running into his teammates and jumping up and down, and then they would say "he's just celebrating with his teammates, exactly like he is supposed to." It wasn't until about 10 minutes after the game that anyone even suggested chucking the ball 50 feet in the air might have been the cause of the penalty.

Hey - at least the game was plenty exciting! And the guy who did a somersault on his neck turns out to be okay after being taken off the field in an ambulance. But really, I was maybe the most disappointed on the 96 yard drive where BYU then lost the ball instead of scoring a TD. If that ball had gone in, no one would be saying the referee decided the game. :)

Nick said...

Another reason why I like Ultimate Frisbee so much. No refs. (except for BYU intramurals. Stupid refs.)

JonF said...

I listened to most of the game on the internet, so I didn't see anything as it was happening.
It don't remember the guy's name, but there is one ESPN commentator that not only is a UW alumnus, but played for the UW football team in 1984. That was the year when UW was denied the National Championship by the poll voters even though they won in the Rose Bowl. The poll voters picked the only undefeated team that year: BYU. He has never been able to be unbiased when it comes to UW or BYU games, and especially not when they are playing each other. But I don't know if it was the same guy...
Also, one of the columns I linked to was also written by a UW alumnus.

And I liked some of the referees in BYU intramurals. They were generally able to protect us from the teams that didn't understand what a non-contact sport is.

Nick said...

(I'm still bitter over that call made against Ryan where he intercepted the disc and set it on the ground in one swift motion as opposed to just slapping it out of the air. The refs, who had never read the rulebook, gave it to the other team, and wouldn't even listen to me (after the game was over) when I calmly tried to show them what the real rule was. Stupid refs.)

Joe said...

Wow that was a seriously long long long post.

You are forgetting one other argument that has been brought up. BYU had God on their side so it did not matter what Washington was going to do, they were going to lose. But this is not the first time BYU has managed to screw over Washington.

The undefeated Cougars (12-0-0) beat the Michigan Wolverines (6-5-0) 24-17 in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on December 21, marking the only time a national champion played in (and won) a bowl game before New Year's Day. It was also the only time since the inception of the AP poll that a team was awarded the national title without beating an opponent ranked in the top 25 at the season's end.

What a joke that was.

oh back to the penalty.

I agree with your number 1,2 and I am in favor of the 3 but not with your grade on number 4. I would not give it an F or 0% for that matter. But only with the comment that this happens in Basketball and Football way way WAY to much. Too many times an official will just stand there with an obvious foul taking place but with the whistle stuck in their throat for fear of deciding the game on that call. Hmmm, wait maybe I am agreeing with that grade actually. Because either way, whether the call gets made or not someone will have a problem with it. My favorite line from coaches after a game that has come down to a questionable call or no call at the end of a game is when they respond with "we could have won the game plenty of times before that and didn't"

Anyway, well I hate BYU football, but this I loved.

18th-ranked Cougars handed UCLA its worst loss in nearly 80 years, overwhelming the Bruins 59-0 Saturday.

That was a beautiful thing. UCLA hired the Devil for a coach and the almighty put him in his place.

Warren said...

Nick - I remember exactly what you are talking about with the play Ryan did.