By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Football is a game played with violence and emotion, and yet those two things seem to cause nothing but controversy these days.
Attempts to curtail the violence in football is understandable, considering the heightened awareness about the long-term effects from head injuries.
Some officials might be overly protective when it comes to head injuries, but who could blame them under the scary circumstances?
It’s how officials handle the emotional side of football that is open for debate, especially in the wake of Iowa’s 31-14 victory over North Texas on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Both teams combined for 19 penalties, including 13 by the Mean Green for 119 yards, but it was one of Iowa’s six penalties that had everybody questioning the judgment of the officials during and after Saturday’s game.
Iowa running back Akrum Wadley had a 74-yard touchdown reception erased in the first quarter after he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Wadley drew the 15-yard penalty for high-stepping into the end zone from about the 6-yard line. The ball was placed at the North Texas 21-yard line, but the Hawkeyes still capped the drive with a touchdown.
“I just told him he's too good of a player to do that,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “Close, not close, but why give anybody an opportunity to have to make that decision”
“He's too good of a player for that.”
Wadley was removed from the game after being penalized. He returned briefly in the second quarter before suffering what Ferentz said was a minor leg injury.
Ferentz demands and expects a lot from his players with regard to how they conduct themselves on the field. It’s hard to know for sure how upset Ferentz was with Wadley because the injury limited Wadley’s playing time.
But I have to question if the penalty even should have been called since Wadley only high-stepped for about two steps before crossing the end zone. You might have missed it if you had blinked.
Obviously, the official who called the penalty didn't blink.
But why couldn’t the official have pulled Wadley aside and warned him that he was at risk of getting a penalty?
And why does the penalty come at the expense of a touchdown?
To me, the punishment far outweighs the crime in this case.
It would’ve made more sense to let the touchdown stand and then penalize Iowa 15 yards on the kickoff.
“That's why I think it's a point of emphasis,” Ferentz said. “Although I thought pants over the knees was a point of emphasis, too, and I saw a game on TV last night and the guys looked like they had shorts on. “I'm not sure how that works. But anyway, that is a point of emphasis, that celebration stuff, just like coaches on the field.”
Unfortunately, for Wadley, the point of emphasis crossed the line in Saturday’s game and became a little silly.
It would’ve made sense to penalize Wadley if he had started high stepping 20 or 30 yards from the end zone, but he barely did it for five yards and he didn’t appear to taunt any of the North Texas players.
Wadley was just expressing his joy while making a big play at a pivotal time.
You could argue that North Texas running back Jeffery Wilson also deserved to be called for unsportsmanlike conduct after he scored the game’s first touchdown on a 41-yard run in the first quarter. Wilson turned to the fans in the south end zone and appeared to say something as he celebrated in the end zone.
Saturday's game was a case in which the officials over officiated and held more reviews than a movie critic.
Football isn't golf.
It's a sport where emotion and violence meet head on, sometimes with horrible results.
I'm all for making the game as safe as humanly possible, but can't that be done without ruining the emotional side of football?
The best officials are those that hardly ever get noticed because the game moves along smoothly under their watch. They allow the players to express themselves just a little because it goes with the territory.
By rule, Wadley made a mistake by high stepping.
But the official, in my opinion, made a bigger mistake by calling it.
It almost seemed that Wadley was giving a ticket for driving 27 miles per hour in a 25 zone.