High School: Controversial Call in Massachusetts State Championship High School Football Game Changes Outcome

Usually, when I see some sort of sports controversy in the news, especially when it is accompanied by a video and full explanation of the dispute, I immediately know where I stand. And typically, my opinion is formulated, in large part, by the “rules” set forth for the game or sport being played. Along with a common sense application of good character and integrity, when those two terms are pertinent.

My feelings, generally: “If you don’t play by the rules, you aren’t really ‘playing’ the game.” And that would include rules of sportsmanship.

Then comes along a video portraying a high school quarterback being called for unsportsmanlike conduct after momentarily raising his arm in celebration of a touchdown he is about to score. An act that resulted in the referee promptly throwing his flag and calling the touchdown back, no score!

Had this touchdown stood, it likely would have been the deciding factor in a pretty important high school game, a State Championship game.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) follows the NCAA guidelines for unsportsmanlike conduct that were applied in this situation. And, from what I gather, these rules do not allow for any behavior that might be considered demeaning, or show ill will, toward their opponent, officials, and/or the spirit of the game. (Complete rule, see Boston Herald.)

According to ABC’s WCVBTV news, the quarterback for Cathedral High School had been called, and penalized, for “taunting” earlier in the game. In addition, it is important to note that an announcement was made at the game regarding “taunting and sportsmanship.” However, when you watch the actions of the quarterback during the actual play it does raise questions about the call.

 VIDEO LINK:  http://youtu.be/9ireRO4GZRU

From my perspective, it certainly does look innocent. Simply a celebratory motion due based on the inevitability of scoring a possible winning touchdown in a very big game. It doesn’t appear, at least from what we can see here, to be of a mocking or unsportsmanlike nature, which I consider to be at the heart of the reason behind such a rule. As an athlete, I don’t believe I would have taken offense or felt demeaned in any way if I was a player for the opposing team based on what I saw in the video.

But there are a couple of important pieces to reflect on before formulating an opinion on such a case. First, it was pointed out that behavior of any unsportsmanlike conduct was prohibited. Second, that since the quarterback was penalized prior to this, you would think he would be inclined to refrain from any such activity that might be judged as such. Third, and most importantly, there is always a flavor to a game that cannot be readily seen through such a short video clip. An atmosphere of respect, or lack thereof, that is not as easily discernible to one viewing a pre-recorded version of a play, or whole game for that matter.

In a nutshell, maybe there is something more to this story than what can be determined based on what we see in this clip, something only those who were there, on the field, refereeing, and/or playing in the game, that no one else could possibly know. Again, a flavor so-to-speak, that helped determine the outcome of that flag being pulled for what the referee cocluded as something unsportsmanlike.

I am not inferring that this actually was the case, just pointing out that there is usually more to a story than what might meet the eye.

Me, I would think it best to hold off on expressing a definitive opinion on that call. There just isn’t enough information available to say, for sure, one way or the other. And, at this point, whether one agrees with the call or not, it is probably best to follow the statement given by the MIAA in response to the queries they received (Full MIAA statement):

“The official involved reported he had determined a violation of NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations of Rule 9, Section 2 covering Unsportsmanlike Conduct Section A. He called the violation and assessed the penalty.

There is no provision in MIAA rules (or rules for any other sport at any other level) to overturn an official’s call after a game has been concluded. Once the final whistle is sounded the game is over.”

Yep, game over, let’s move on.

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