Saturday, December 31, 2011

Is Brigham Young University's Football Team Ethical?

--Richard E. Vatz

Here is the set-up: Brigham Young University's Cougars, the football team of America's biggest religious university, won a football game against Tulsa (as described by the Associated Press) by "[hurrying] to the line with a call to spike the ball and stop the clock. Instead, [quarterback Riley] Nelson faked the spike and then threw his third touchdown pass...with 11 seconds left to give the Cougars a 24-21 victory over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl..."

The coach, Bronco Mendenhall, was proud and "smiling," saying "that's the kind of magic of the guys that I get to coach."

Let's stipulate some points, and if you don't agree with these premises, you might not wish to read any further:

1. This cheap trickery is not analogous to a fake anything. Fake punts, fake passes, and feints and reverses are all part of sports combat wherein your ability to deal with multiple athletic strategies is open and above board.

2. Football combat is a measure of physical prowess and mental alertness on the field, not the ability to make the other team think that play is over.

3. This treacherous play was legal and the responsibility and blame for losing the game is Tulsa's, who must be aware of the universal sports admonition, "Be on guard at all times." Praise for winning the game, it says here, does not go to Brigham Young. Certainly not without any qualms.

I have been a tennis athlete all of my life. Somewhat analogous here is the quick serve.

I have never seen it called; maybe it is the same thing.

Wonder if Brigham Young could have won on a last-second play? We'll never know. They'll never know. What a great memory -- they won by tricking Tulsa into believing there was not a play being played.

I'd be interested in hearing whether readers would be proud of their university if they won a bowl game this way, or if they at least would wonder if this is consistent with the sportsmanship one expects, especially, I would have thought, from Brigham Young University.

Maybe one would expect this from a professional team, but colleges should play to a higher moral level.

Prof. Vatz, professor at Towson University, is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012)


Jim said...

What a waste of space. Did you lose a big bet on the game? "colleges should play to a higher moral level"? Wake up. College football is a business just like , or worse than, pro football. Did you lose a big bet on the game?

Greg Kline said...

Professor, if you hated this, which has been done in the pros and college for decades and the other team had notice a fake is always possible, you will really hate the playaction pass, the flee flicker and the reverse. Football, like war, is as much about deception as anything you described. Stick to tennis, but watch out for the drop shot (is that unethical?).

Vatz said...

Ah, Mr. ask me about similar analogies to which I refer in the original piece...

"This cheap trickery is not analogous to a fake anything. Fake punts, fake passes, and feints and reverses are all part of sports combat wherein your ability to deal with multiple athletic strategies is open and above board."

No, they are not analogous, nor is the drop shot or slice (both of which, parenthetically, are used by yours truly frequently).

The dispositive question, if you will: would you be proud of your team's faking ending play in a great, once-in-a-lifetime, even clash such as this?

Think ahead 10 years -- a potentially great final moment in a bowl game, and your team tricks the other team into thinking there is no play going on.

Great to tell your kids, huh?


streiff said...

Dr. Vatz, I think you are way out on a limb here and despite all indications to the contrary are continuing to saw away.

Playing a game within the rules is what it is about. The whole idea of the quick snap and the "no huddle" offense is to catch the other team off guard. The shame here is on the team who decided that it didn't have to play the whole game and decided to take it easy at a critical moment.

What you decry as trickery I see as fast thinking just like setting up for a point after kick and actually going for two. Or faking a punt and going for it on fourth down.

Chris Biggs said...

This to me is very similar to what Tom Brady does almost every Sunday in doing a quick snap to catch the other team with 12 men on the field (or Neutral Zone infraction, off-sides, or a variety of others) and getting the 5 yard penalty and often a first down. As you stated yourself in number 2: "mental alertness". The other team needs to be mentally aware Is Tom Brady criticized for doing the quick snap and getting the 5 yard penalty? No, he is named the most alert quarterback.

And where did BYU Quarterback Nelson get the idea for the play? It was a Dan Marino inspired play that he did against the Jets back in 1994, a man that no one has ever accused of being dirty.