The celebration rules, they are a-changing. It’s still unclear what they’ll be a-changing to.
Despite an expectation in the days preceding the annual meeting in March that changes of some sort would be made to the rules regarding player celebrations, the rules never changed. In fact, the topic never even came up again.
It’s coming up now. Via Peter King of TheMMQB.com, the ownership meeting set for Tuesday in Chicago will result in changes to the current 15-yards-and-a-five-figure-fine punishment for things that currently are forbidden. But it remains unclear what will and won’t be allowed, and what the consequence will be for doing something that will, when things change, be forbidden.
Currently, players are prohibited from: (1) going to the ground when celebrating; (2) celebrating in a group; and (3) using the ball as a prop. King points out that maneuvers like shooting the ball through the uprights as if they’re a basketball hoop (which Washington tight end Vernon Davis did a year ago) will be allowed. It’s still not clear what won’t be allowed.
We’ve argued in the past that, whatever the rules may be, the sanction should be a fine and not a penalty. This allows the league office to carefully consider whether a violation occurred, without requiring the officials to determine in the heat of the moment whether (or not) to take out the flag and tilt the playing field by 15 yards.
As noted by King, Commissioner Roger Goodell, his staff, and a “large group of players” met twice this offseason to discuss the issue. Based on King’s report, it sounds as if, at a minimum, the prohibition on using the ball as a prop will go away. Still, there will be a line, somewhere; in Super Bowl XLIX, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin used the ball as a prop in one very specific (and some would say hilarious) way, which the league surely doesn’t want to endorse or embrace.
So whatever they decide to do on Tuesday in Chicago, the new rules need to be clear, and they need to be consistently enforced. Discretion should be at a minimum for the officials. Ideally, the officials won’t be involved at all, with the downside of a downright inappropriate celebration being a postgame fine, not an in-game penalty.