The buzz surrounding the controversial unsportsmanlike penalty at the end of the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl was a focus of the national sports scene on Friday.
Kansas State wide receiver Adrian Hilburn went from ecstasy to agony during the final minute of the Wildcats’ gut-wrenching 36-34 loss to Syracuse on Thursday at Yankee Stadium.
After Hilburn’s 30-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown with 1:13 remaining, he promptly saluted the Kansas State crowd behind the visitor’s dugout and was flagged 15 yards by a Big Ten officiating crew for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Pushed back to the 18 on the two-point conversion, K-State quarterback Carson Coffman’s pass to the end zone fell incomplete and Syracuse, which recovered the ensuing onside kick, escaped with the narrow win.
OK, Kansas State didn’t do itself any favors earlier in the fourth quarter, when Wildcats head coach Bill Snyder, later taking the blame, opted for a fake field goal that went awry from the Syracuse 11 at the 4:50 mark in the fourth quarter.
Yet, with an entertaining back-and-forth game on the line and possible overtime looming, the outcome was determined by an official’s yellow flag.
Big Ten referee Todd Geerlings said both the head linesman and the back judge threw flags for excessive celebration — rule 9-1-1d — because Hilburn was drawing attention to himself.
The rule reads: “Any delayed, excessive or choreographed act by which a player attempts to focus attention upon himself.”
Question. How does one bring attention to himself when he is saluting others?
The definition of a salute in Wikipedia is “a gesture or other action used to indicate respect.”
Hilburn wasn’t taunting Syracuse fans. He didn’t pound on his chest with his fist, break into an end-zone dance or do a Lambeau Leap into the stands.
In an era where mid-air celebratory chest bumps and hip bumps are acceptable by officials on touchdowns, it’s too bad the Big Ten crew deemed Hilburn’s saluting to others as calling attention to himself.
At the Music City Bowl between North Carolina and Tennessee on Thursday night, also officiated by a Big Ten crew, there were at least three instances of Tennessee players saluting after touchdowns during first-half action and not one excessive celebration penalty was called.
It just goes to show that there is an inconsistency amongst college football officials for the interpretation of showmanship.
For that, I salute the Big Ten officiating crew working the Pinstripe Bowl for completely ruining a great game that was going down to the wire.
Starting next season, rules are expected to be more stringent on excessive celebration.
It will be interesting to see if officials will come up with a general consensus and develop some consistency in their interpretations, too.