Monday, September 8, 2008

College Football Controversy and Physics

Many of you probably saw BYU's 28-27 victory over the University of Washington on Saturday. For those of you who didn't, here's a clip of how that nail-bitter ended.

The controversy comes from the fact that the UW quarterback, Jake Locker, was assessed a 15 yard penalty for throwing the ball into the air after scoring. When you watch that clip and when I watched it happen on TV, I can't find any way to make what Locker did unsportsmanlike (and as a BYU fan, I'd love to find something). However, the NCAA rulebook states:

ARTICLE 1: There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct of any act that interferes with orderly game administration on the part of players, substitutes, coaches, authorized attendants or any other persons subject to the rules, before the game, during the game or between periods.

a. Specifically prohibited acts and conduct include:

2. After a score or any other play, the player in possession immediately must return the ball to an official or leave it near the dead-ball spot. This prohibits:

a. Kicking, throwing, spinning or carrying (including off of the field) the ball any distance that requires an official to retrieve it.

b. Spiking the ball to the ground. …

c. Throwing the ball high into the air.

d. Any other unsportsmanlike act or actions that delay the game.

So what exactly constitutes "throwing the ball high into the air" and how high did Locker actually throw the ball? Here's where physics comes in handy.

If you check the YouTube video, you'll find that Locker throws the ball at time 1:02. The ball then hits Locker in the back on its way back down at time 1:05. Using the equations of motion for a free-falling object and neglecting air resistance, we find that Locker threw the ball approximately 35 ft. into the air. Regulation college uprights are 30 ft. tall, so Locker threw the ball to roughly the height of the top of the uprights. That seems like high into the air to me.

Of course the rule is silly. Refs should be able to exercise judgement as to when an action is unsportsmanlike and when its just a 19 year old that just scored on a last second play being a little excited. Locker was being sportsmanlike, but unfortunately the refs weren't allowed, by rule, to decide if he was or not.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I agree the call wasn't the best but two things:

    1. Even if they were on the 3 yard line, a blocked kick would be no good so the penalty doesn't really matter.

    2. Bad calls that may or may not change game scores happen to everyone all the time. What about pass interference calls that were bad, those can lead to different scores. What about bad holding calls, again, those lead to different scores since every extra first down you can or don't get makes a big difference.

    I played high school football and our coach would always tell us, if you needed questionable calls to go your way to win, you are not necessarily the better team.

    There were several games where we as players thought if they went the other way we would have won.


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