Baker Mayfield grabbed headlines all over the country this past Saturday. The Sooners quarterback made lewd gestures towards Kansas players after Oklahoma‘s fourth touchdown of the game. Mayfield was rightfully censured by Oklahoma for the action, and he will not start this coming Saturday’s game against West Virginia. Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy front-runner–has been discussed on national news for his actions. However, most miss the whole story.
What Got Us Here
Here’s a quick recap of what happened:
At the beginning of the game, Kansas players refused to shake Mayfield’s hand. This is a very unsportsmanlike gesture, and we should all be surprised that the officials did not immediately assess Kansas a 15-yard penalty to start the game. Mayfield, predictably, did not take it well.
So, Mayfield and a Kansas player went helmet to helmet after the coin toss. A ref had to run in from the sideline to separate them. And no, I’m not kidding about this.
— Jenni Carlson (@JenniCarlson_OK) November 18, 2017
Late in the first half, Kansas cornerback Hasan Defense came in at Mayfield with a very late hit. Roughing the passer was called, but not targeting.
I don’t want to get too bogged down in the details here, but this is textbook targeting. There is a clear launch, and contact is clearly initiated to Mayfield’s facemask. That neither the officials on the field nor the replay booth called targeting is atrocious. The fact that the Big 12, after having days to see the video, has not suspended Defense for it is even worse.
David Beaty’s culpability
After the game, ESPN quoted Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen, Jr.–the player who Mayfield extended his hand towards–as saying, “It was more for us personally to kind of put our foot down and kind of get a little bit fired up before the game and let them know that we’re here and we’re not going to just back down because you’re Oklahoma.”
Kansas head coach David Beaty, also cited in the ESPN article, said, “I think it helped us. We were ready to go.”
Refusing to shake your opponents’ hands before the game seems like a great way to fire a team up. It makes a statement, and one that players certainly appreciate when facing a massive favorite. Kansas against Oklahoma is a perennial David vs Goliath battle, and it’s easy to understand why Kansas wants to pump itself up. There is, however, one major problem with this.
Statement on Sportsmanship
The NCAA football rulebook begins with a “Statement on Sportmanship.” The purpose of that statement, pretty explicitly, is to avoid situations like we just saw.
The rules committee reminds head coaches of their responsibility for the behavior of their players before and after, as well as during, the game. Players must be cautioned against pre-game unsportsmanlike conduct on the field that can lead to confrontation between the teams. Such action can lead to penalties enforced on the opening kickoff, possibly including disqualification of players. Repeated occurrence of such unsportsmanlike behavior by a team may result in punitive action by the conference against the head coach and his institution.
In the last decade of college football, I have seen very few pre-game violations of the sportsmanship statement. Refusing to shake hands absolutely is, though. The rulebook also, very clearly, places the responsibility for such violations on the head coach. Especially with the statements given by the players after the game, there is no question that Kansas must bear a level of fault here.
The statement also gives the reason it prohibits such pre-game antics–so that we don’t see fights on the field between two teams. In a tremendous irony, if a brawl had developed at the game, then Kansas would be properly held accountable. Instead, because Oklahoma players did not react as aggressively as they could have (and aggression certainly was warranted after the cheap late hit above), no one cares about what Kansas did.
Upholding The Statement
Many people are at fault for what happened in the game on Saturday. Mayfield probably deserved a minor punishment for his inappropriate gesture, and that is what he received. The fact that he has been the only one punished for the situation, though, is absurd. Defense has not been suspended for his dangerous and illegal hit. Beaty and Dineen have not even been censured for violating the game’s sportsmanship statement. Even if the Big 12 doesn’t care about Beaty’s actions, the NCAA has to. Otherwise, we will start seeing more and more antics like this to try to rile up players known to be excitable–which is exactly what the NCAA wanted to stop with its Statement on Sportsmanship in the first place.
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