Matt Edwards / Asst. multimedia editor
After Wisconsin’s win over Illinois on Saturday made next week’s Wisconsin-Penn State a de-facto play-in game for Dec. 3’s Big Ten Championship Game, I struggled to come up with a coherent thought that was worth writing about in regards to what was essentially an exhibition game played later that day between Penn State and Ohio State.
As I watched the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions play the first meaningless game between the two storied programs that I can remember, it wasn’t the uselessness of the wildcat offense, a fourth-quarter drop by sophomore wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown, three bad snaps from senior center Michael Brewster, or the inconsistency of the OSU defense that bothered me the most about Saturday’s game.
Instead, it was an incomplete pass thrown by OSU freshman quarterback Braxton Miller on the Buckeyes’ final drive that I found to be the most troublesome part of Saturday’s game. But the disturbing part of the play had nothing to do with the ball not landing in the hands of an OSU receiver. No, what bothered me most was that, as a referee’s yellow flag landed on the field immediately after the play, for the first time in my 20 years of watching football, I realized that the punishment for the violation known as intentional grounding certainly doesn’t fit the crime.
In college football, intentional grounding is called when a quarterback stays within the tackle box and attempts a pass to an area of the field that does not contain an eligible receiver from his own team. The spirit of the rule is to prevent teams from avoiding sacks by throwing pass attempts that have no chance of being completed.
The punishment assessed for intentional grounding, however, doesn’t come close to matching a crime that doesn’t even result in a positive play by the offending team.
If a team is deemed to be guilty of intentionally grounding the ball, a team is assessed a loss of down at the spot of the foul, and if the penalty occurs in the last minute of a half — as it did for the Buckeyes on Saturday — a 10-second runoff from the play clock. That’s three potential punishments — two of which are guaranteed — for a play that, again, doesn’t result in any sort of positive gain for a team.
I would argue that the loss of down that accompanies the initial result of the play is punishment enough for a team. Football is a game of inches, and merely throwing an incomplete pass on first down means that a team has 25 percent less of a shot at gaining the necessary 360 inches that result in a first down.
I understand, however, that sometimes an incomplete pass is the lesser of two evils when it comes between throwing an incompletion and taking a sack and that intentional grounding is therefore unfair to teams with successful pass rushes. Therefore, I understand why a loss of yards could be viewed as a fair punishment to the rule, but not in conjunction with a loss of downs. That’s just double jeopardy.
And then there’s the 10-second runoff from the clock. Where did this even come from and why did anyone think it was fair? A team’s already been punished by a loss of downs and field position, now we’re taking time away from them too? As we saw against Wisconsin, one play can be the difference between a win and loss for a team, and running off 10 seconds basically takes away, at the very least, two potential game-winning plays.
I’m not saying that the intentional grounding call was the difference between a Buckeyes’ win and a Buckeyes’ loss on Saturday, because I know that’s not the case. What I am saying, though, is that the game of football isn’t perfect, and it won’t be until a brighter light is shed on the injustices of the game. That starts with evaluating how teams are punished for throwing the ball away.