Iowa beat North Texas on Saturday, 31-14, and there was nothing overly memorable about it. But the game was host to one of the silliest examples of systemic overreaction to a player having fun in a sport that’s sadly full of these instances.
This was supposed to be a 74-yard wheel route touchdown catch for Hawkeyes running back Akrum Wadley. But it wasn’t, because Wadley got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct right at the end of his run. His crime was taking two slightly elongated steps before scoring, which college football’s rules have decided is inappropriate:
Officials penalized Wadley at the UNT 6-yard line, bringing up a first-and-10 at the Mean Green’s 21 instead of an Iowa touchdown.
Iowa got a TD seven plays later. But let’s hone in on this one for a second.
The call’s correct, so don’t blame the refs.
Usually, celebration penalties don’t take a touchdown off the board. If someone scores and then gets flagged for some kind of celebration after the play, it goes in the books as a dead-ball foul, and the penalty gets assessed on the ensuing kickoff.
But in Wadley’s case, he got penalized for something that happened before the end of the play: high-stepping it, basically, for two steps at the end of the play.
His “foul,” again:
Do you think it’s stupid that this was penalized? So do I.
But per the rulebook, unsportsmanlike conduct fouls include this:
An unopposed ball carrier obviously altering stride as he approaches the opponent’s goal line or diving into the end zone.
Wadley does that. No question. This silliness isn’t on the guys enforcing the rules.
But the rule is bad, and its primary effect is to discourage fun.
I haven’t talked to any of them, but I’d be pretty stunned if any of the players on North Texas had their emotional states of mind damaged by Wadley’s trot into their end zone. High-stepping is an ages-old football tradition, so much so that you can literally press buttons to make your players do it in Madden. (The NFL’s slightly more lax about these things than the college game, to the league’s credit.)
Wadley should’ve known this was a penalty, and if he didn’t, someone should’ve told him. But all the player’s doing here is having a good time playing a sport. It’s a shame that the NCAA has a rulebook that takes harmless fun and makes it illegal.