Friday, April 16, 2010

For The 6-0-9

When TigerBlog Jr. was playing Pop Warner flag football several years ago, the coaches, of which TigerBlog was one, also served as the refs.

During one game, a player on the opposing team got free of the field and, as he approached the 10-yard-line, turned and held the ball back to taunt our team. TigerBlog immediately blew the whistle to call the play dead, disallowed the touchdown and assessed a 15-yard penalty.

He also went up to the kid and his parents and said something like "you're too good to do stuff like that; anytime you want to do something like that again, think back to this and learn from it." Maybe TB was being a tad harsh on a 7 or so year old, taking away his touchdown and all (TB can't remember which kid it was, but he's pretty sure it wasn't his only touchdown), though if that kid learned from it, then it was absolutely the right thing for TB-ref to do.

Of course, the kid did say something about how Terrell Owens did it as well. Hey, he's right about that.

That episode was the first thing TB thought about when he saw that the NCAA had adopted rules to combat showboating, including no more messages on eye black and, coming in two years, the ability of the refs to do what TB did in the flag football game.

As an aside, the NCAA as an organization does not create these rules. Instead, these rules come from committees made up mostly of coaches and sometimes of athletic administrators from campuses or conferences.

Anyway, the rule that takes effect immediately is the one that bans the messages on eye black, which TB first remembers from when Reggie Bush put the area code of his hometown on his eye black and which has now become widespread.

TigerBlog remembers back to when he watched football as a kid and saw the eye black on the players, a simple line under each eye that made them look ridiculously tough. If you ever saw "This Week In Pro Football" from the early 1970s (check out the Princeton reference near the end), a highlight show usually with the great broadcast team of Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier, you know exactly what TB is talking about.

And, if you did watch the show each week, you agree with TB's statement that there's never been a better sports show. Or one with better music.

And, as eye black goes today, TB is okay with the impact Mikey Powell has had on youth lacrosse eye black, even if more than one of his towels has been ruined by TBJ.

But the idea of putting messages on eye black seemed silly from the start. Eventually, it was obvious someone was going to cross the line, and an unnecessary controversy was definitely on its way.

The rule that TB really likes is the one that will outlaw excessive showboating.

The ridiculous part of it, of course, is that the NCAA needed a rule to do so in the first place, but it shows you how far the world of sportsmanship has come in the last 20 years or so.

The incessant preening after routine tackles, the endless first down signals, the taunting entering the end zone is just getting to be too much. Obviously, the rules changes will not affect the NFL, where it is way worse, but is it asking too much for someone to be like Walter Payton, who would gain a first day or score a touchdown and simply give the ball to the ref?

Sportsmanship is an interesting concept these days. It used to be that the model for an athlete was Joe DiMaggio, almost as much for his gentlemanly manner as for his skill. It all started to change when individuals became marketed more than teams, when an athlete himself became bigger than the sport.

Of course, it had to do with money. If you were paying a player $75,000 and he became an embarrassment, you could get rid of him. If you're paying someone more than 100 times that, as many pro athletes now make, your options aren't quite as simple.

That's why rules are necessary. TB has long thought that giving the officials the ability to flag players for self-serving displays that are so over-the-top would put a stop to it rather quickly.

Here at Princeton, presumably nobody is paying the athletes anything. They're not even bound to the program by a scholarship. Their commitment to playing is to themselves, and also to their teammates and coaches, in other words to the program.

Still, the last thing Princeton Athletics wants is on-field, in-public displays of awful sportsmanship. It's a subject that is taken seriously by the administration, starting with Director of Athletics Gary Walters. TB has had conversations with Gary through the years about athletes (a small number, to be sure) who haven't made the best impression on the AD, and mostly those athletes stood out for poor sportsmanship as much as anything.

To be honest, TB can't remember anything that went way over the line, either from Princeton teams or from opponents.

Of course, the bar of what counts as bad sportsmanship has been so lowered that it's hard to say if it's just a function of being desensitized.

Maybe it's TB's newspaper background that makes him value the ability to make the big play and then go on to the next one. Or, as is often said, the ability to "act like you expected it" or "act like you've been in the end zone before."

On the one hand, he's glad that the NCAA will now have rules that take the first steps to reeling the world back towards proper behavior on the field.

On the other hand, he's sad that the world has gotten to the point where such rules are necessary.

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