ATHENS — It won’t change the outcome of one of the most frenzied finishes in recent history for Georgia, but on Monday, the coordinator of SEC officials admitted a mistake was made when Bulldogs receiver A.J. Green was flagged for excessive celebration following a go-ahead touchdown with 1:09 left to play in the game.
The penalty pushed Georgia’s kickoff back 15 yards and LSU’s Trindon Holliday returned the ensuing kick to the Georgia 43. An illegal formation flag tacked on an additional 5 yards, and two plays later Charles Scott scored from 33 yards out to cap the 20-13 LSU win.
Scott, too was flagged for excessive celebration following his touchdown, and Georgia tight end Orson Charles earned a penalty for the same thing earlier in the game. After reviewing all three instances, Rogers Redding, the conference’s head of officials, admitted the flag on Green shouldn’t have been thrown.
“The first and the last one were fine,” Redding said. “The one that followed the touchdown with a minute to go, we felt like after reviewing the video that the call should not have been made.”
Following the game, Georgia head coach Mark Richt said he was unsure why the flag was thrown but took responsibility for the penalty.
“I didn’t coach it up,” Richt said. “I didn’t do a good job of saying, ‘Hey, if we get an exciting score at the end of a ballgame, don’t go crazy.’ I didn’t do that. I probably should have before the drive started. I did not prepare them for that moment.”
After learning of Redding’s mea culpa, Richt said the team already had moved on beyond the call and was only concerned with its preparations for this week’s game against Tennessee.
Still, the admission came a bit too late for the Bulldogs, who were just 69 seconds away from their first win at home over a top-five opponent in 25 years. Instead, Georgia dropped from the polls for the first time since 2006 and was saddled with its first SEC loss of the season.
“We’re playing the No. 4 team in the country and got a touchdown with a minute left,” quarterback Joe Cox said. “I don’t really know what we’re supposed to do or how we’re supposed to act. Our whole sideline went crazy; our crowd went crazy. You can’t help but to be emotional after something like that.”
That was the overwhelming feeling from many analysts following the game.
Because the rule is written to leave discretion to the officials during the game, there is an inherent gray area in terms of what constitutes a penalty and what doesn’t. Following the game, the officials released a statement saying that Green had gestured to the crowd, an action deemed “drawing attention to himself,” thus drawing the flag.
Green said he didn’t realize he had done anything self-congratulatory, and in CBS’ postgame commentary, analyst Tim Brando was even more critical of the calls, alluding to potential racial or political overtones.
“They don’t want us to go more in-depth on why the SEC is throwing more (excessive celebration flags),” Brando said following the game. “I am telling you, it is a conversation, I don’t want to have it, my friend Spencer (Tillman) does not want to have it, and I am telling you, watch out, because people are going to take a closer look at this, and it is not going to bode well for the league.”
Redding declined to comment on Brando’s remarks but said he didn’t believe the rule should generate any controversy, adding that the specific wording and enforcement has been carefully regulated during the past year.
Redding said the SEC’s rules committee met last year to discuss the rule and determined it was properly written but still added additional commentary on the role coaches play in disciplining their teams. He said a DVD outlining what constitutes excessive celebration was also distributed to all member schools.
“I think from the rule’s committee’s standpoint, it’s not a controversial thing from a standpoint of how the rule is written and how it’s being enforced,” Redding said. “Now the officials are called upon to try to draw the line between what’s allowable in terms of teenage enthusiasm and what is either demeaning to an opponent or casts a negative image on the game from a standpoint of a player singling himself out and drawing attention to himself after making a really great play or a routine play. It’s a tough situation.”
Redding said he thought the flag on Green was an unfortunate but understandable mistake made by the officials in a similar vein to a holding or pass interference call and said he did not expect any significant change to the rule or how officials enforce it.
“We continue to coach up our officials to be diligent about using good judgment about enforcing any rule,” Redding said. “So there’s not anything special we’d say to our officials other than to just take this as a learning opportunity and try to be judicious in making your interpretations of what you see.”