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Old-school rules ruin the fun

Pull up a seat at a college football game this fall and you might find something missing.

The fun. (Substitute "showboating" for those born before Richard Nixon left office).

Where's the high-stepper making his way into the end zone? Where's the TD-scoring wideout breaking into his Heisman pose? Where's the dude clever enough to spin the ball like a top? Or all of the other colorful antics we've come to witness, if not accept -- bowing at the waist, cupping a hand to the ear to bring on the crowd noise ... the playful, unchallenged dive into the end zone?

It was only a few years ago that ex-coach Jerry Glanville, a sideline self-promoter if ever there was one, railed before the cameras about the NFL being policed into the "No Fun League." Well, folks, if the college game gets any more sterile, the NCAA will be writing up 15-yard infractions against left-footed kickers.

Already, the NCAA Football Rules Committee has seemed a bit too old-school in distributing a list of 15 unsportsmanlike fouls it's urging game officials to enforce this season. The key word is "urging." If these acts are really such egregious penalties, then why not treat them as such, conference-to-conference, and forget the wishy-washy "suggestion" that they be called.

Some of these 15 acts do go well beyond fair play and sportsmanship. Standing over a player and taunting him is one of them. While 15 yards is being walked off, let's got a step further and toss the guy from the game. The same might be said for a menacing defender imitating a slash of the throat or pretending to fire off a gun.

But what's so wrong about a player giving the first-down signal? Why penalize a college kid for high-fivin' the tuba player? Why penalize for jumping and bumping chests?

Or how about the 15-yarder for performing a military salute? If it's so ghastly, John "I'm reporting for duty'' Kerry is in deep bean soup for breaking out a salute at the Democratic convention in Boston. Dock that candidate 15 electoral delegates, please.

Unsportsmanlike? If these fine academic institutions that field moneyed football teams really gave a flip about decorum, they'd be more watchful of the ugly drunks they let into their stadiums.

Championing this anti-celebration movement is Bobby Gaston, the Southeastern Conference's very able chief of officials. Gaston is an admitted old-school guy who's tired of the over-the-top individual theatrics. Gaston spent less than 30 minutes this past off-season composing a list of what he perceived to be boorish acts, which was endorsed by the rules committee and passed along to all the football-playing schools.

"They're all demeaning acts -- spiking the ball, spinning the ball,'' Gaston said. "[Officials] are not caddies for those guys. We don't need to be chasing the ball. They should hand us the damn ball or just leave it down.

"We have to get a hold of sportsmanship, because it is slipping away from us. You see it in the NFL. A guy goes and gets a cell phone [after scoring a TD]. They strike the Heisman pose. And they do all these things. I think those need to be eliminated from the game.''

Darn right, anything that slows the game is worth addressing. The same goes for demeaning acts. But let's not regulate spontaneity and healthy fun from Saturday afternoons.

"You can't control all this stuff,'' said David Pollack, Georgia's hard-charging defensive end. "A lot of people get caught up in the moment and do crazy things.''

Talking to players, even they understand that the throat-slashing motions have to go. But as Mississippi free safety Eric Oliver said, "I trash talk a good bit. So if they took that away my game might be hurt a little bit.

"As far as celebrating and stuff, as long as it is not out of hand they should let some of that stuff go. Don't be too harsh.''

Agreed. In other words, no one wants a game decided by a kid jumping up after a catch and signaling first down. Or, heaven forbid, failing to hand the ball to a zebra.

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