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Why it’s ironic Tom Herman complained about uncalled taunting by WVU

In 2017, Herman participated in an extended taunt of an opposing player and didn’t get called for it. The thing he’s unhappy about now is a much more minor violation.

West Virginia v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Just as West Virginia QB Will Grier was crossing the goal line for a game-winning two-point conversion in the last minute against Texas on Saturday, he started to celebrate. Specifically, he started high-stepping just before taking the ball across the plane:

Let’s enhance:

The ball might be touching the goal line there, but it’s probably not. And Grier’s certainly in high-step mode, showing off a bit as he makes his way into the end zone.

Grier earned an unsportsmanlike conduct on the play, but not until it was over. The officiating crew flagged him for doing the Horns Down hand motion (something that doesn’t have to be a penalty, under the NCAA rulebook) and then loudly, demonstratively taunting a bunch of Horns fans behind the end zone (which is, admittedly, not allowed).

Because refs assessed the foul on Grier for his taunts after the play, the only consequence was a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff.

And there wasn’t enough time left for it to matter. WVU won, 42-41.

The ruling didn’t please Texas coach Tom Herman.

“I thought taunting before you cross the goal line negated a score,” Herman said afterward. “I’ve got to brush up on my rules and get some questions answered.”

Herman is correct. By NCAA rule, Grier committed unsportsmanlike conduct of the live-ball variety, and the two-pointer should’ve come back.

The rulebook says this is an “unsportsmanlike act,” subject to 15 yards:

An unopposed ball carrier obviously altering stride as he approaches the opponent’s goal line or diving into the end zone.

In 2010, the NCAA started penalizing that like it penalizes all live-ball penalties of this kind: by wiping any score off the board, if needed, and sending the offense back 15 yards.

This has happened a handful of times over the years, always infuriating fans, players, and coaches of the penalized team.

If the officiating crew had made the technically proper call on this play WVU would’ve had to go back from the Texas two-yard line to the 17 and either try about a 35-yard PAT or go for the winning two-pointer from all the way out there. Dana Holgorsen surely would’ve opted for the kick, and Texas would’ve either won in regulation or gone to overtime.

It’s interesting that Herman is now so passionate about rigid enforcement of unsportsmanlike conduct rules. He’s gotten away with breaking them before.

Let’s go back to the 2017 season’s Texas Bowl, when UT played Missouri. In that game, Mizzou QB Drew Lock did this strapped-gun celebration thing:

Later, once it was clear Texas would win, Herman and a few of his players mocked Lock by doing the same celebration in an obviously joking manner:

Lock took it in stride.

Neither Herman nor anyone else on Texas was penalized. Reasonable people can disagree about what constitutes taunting, but in a world where a harmless Horns Down is considered a penalty, then certainly that extended dig at Lock would count as one of these:

  • Taunting, baiting or ridiculing an opponent verbally.
  • Inciting an opponent or spectators in any other way, such as simulating the firing of a weapon or placing a hand by the ear to request recognition.
  • Any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves).

Lock was one college student being specifically made fun of by the other team. It’s not clear Grier was going after any one person at all. Are all of Texas’ players and fans deeply scarred by a Horns Down? (Come to think of it, don’t answer that.)

But it’s good that Herman has now recommitted himself to the belief that everyone on the field should follow the letter of the NCAA’s dumb rules at all times.

Of course, this is all silly. The rule that wipes scores off the board because someone high-stepped is a bad rule.

The NCAA’s rule is an attempt to moralize by punishing harmless celebrations. If the organization wants to do that, it’s fine, but it shouldn’t use that rule to alter the competitive balance of games. Altering stride on the way into the end zone is technically a foul during the play, obviously, but the whole root of those celebrations is that the competitive portion of the play is already over. The spirit of the rule changes the game for no good reason.

Grier shouldn’t feel like he got away with anything. Briefly high-steeping shouldn’t be a penalty. A coach making fun of an opposing player, though, arguably should.