Rogers Redding isn't dreading the first time he has to explain why one of his officials took points off the scoreboard this season.
That said, when Redding -- the new national coordinator of officials -- has to answer for the first touchdown called back because of a taunting penalty, the response will be much easier if the official's decision is plain for everyone to see.
Starting this season, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty could erase a touchdown in certain circumstances. The NCAA approved the rule before last season, and it turns an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty into a live-ball foul instead of a dead-ball foul.
If, for example, a player high steps, taunts or otherwise showboats on his way to the end zone, the penalty will erase the touchdown. The 15-yard penalty will be assessed at the spot of the foul. Previously, such penalties were enforced on the ensuing kickoff.
"That's my hope, that's my dream, that it will be so obvious to the entire world," Redding says. "There will be people who disagree with it. If there are 50 guys in a bar, if 45 say it's a great call, I'll be happy.
"Don't hold me to that number, though."
Redding doesn't have a prediction on how many touchdowns will be called back or when it will happen for the first time or even if it will happen this season. Still, as the secretary-rules editor of the Playing Rules Oversight Committee, Redding says if it does happen, he just hopes the official doesn't become the story.
"It's really up to the players," Redding says. "If they do what they're supposed to do, we won't have a problem. If they make the choice they should make and that the coaches want to make, there won't be an issue. But there will be somebody. They're teenagers, for goodness sake."
But officials are human, too, and make mistakes. When Redding was the SEC's coordinator of officials in 2009, he determined that the on-field official made the wrong call when he flagged Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green for unsportsmanlike conduct after a late touchdown against LSU. Green's touchdown catch gave the Bulldogs a 13-12 lead with 1:09 left, but because of the penalty, Georgia kicked off from its 15. LSU capitalized on the good field position with the game-winning touchdown two plays later.
The incorrect call didn't cost Georgia the touchdown -- and wouldn't under the new rule -- but it illustrates the subjective nature of unsportsmanlike conduct calls. One official may judge a celebration as a spontaneous response to a great play. Another may see it as showboating and excessive.
As the national coordinator of officials, Redding aims to create more consistent officiating nationwide on every call, not just high-profile unsportsmanlike conduct calls. The post was established in 2008 and was held by Dave Parry, a former Big Ten head of football officiating, until February. Parry, 76, died on March 14 of complications from Parkinson's disease.
Redding's office distributes training videos to every official in the country of correct and incorrect calls and officiating mechanics. Training videos also are available during the season, recapping more recent games.
The goal of Redding's office is to distribute the same training materials among officials working for each conference. In three years since the College Football Officiating, LLC, was established, officials have made the most gains in applying rules for player safety. The area where officials need to find more consistency, Redding says, is in calling unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. Now that officials can erase touchdowns, Redding expects the scrutiny of such calls to ramp up.
If there's a lesson to be learned, it comes from the improved officiating regarding player safety. Officials don't have to go hunting for egregious violations in player safety. The call "almost reaches up and slaps you in the face," says Redding, an on-field official from 1988-2005 who owns a doctorate in physical chemistry from Vanderbilt.
When an official takes away a touchdown, Redding hopes the official takes the same approach.
"Make them almost the pull the flag out of your pocket for you," Redding says. "Make it so obvious that it just slaps you upside the head and you don't have to think about it."
That's what Redding means by winning over fans in the sports bar. The new rule could claim a touchdown every week of the season. Then again, the whole season could pass without a single point coming off the scoreboard.
If it does happen, officials will have far fewer headaches if there aren't any arguments coming from the stands, sidelines or press box.
"It could have a huge impact on the game," Redding says. "It also might have no impact at all if the players adjust. We'll have to see how it goes."
Other rule changes for the 2011 season include:
-- A wide receiver more than seven yards from the center may only block below the waist against a player facing him or toward the nearest sideline. The same rule applies for running backs and receivers in the backfield and outside the tackle box. The change means blocking below the waist more than seven yards away from the center is illegal in most cases.
-- On field goals and extra points, officials will call a penalty when three defensive players line up shoulder to shoulder in an attempt to penetrate the line of scrimmage to block a kick. Coaches voiced player safety concerns when one offensive lineman is overpowered by three defensive players on field-goal and PAT attempts.
-- In more tweaking of clock rules, 10 seconds could be run off the game clock if a team commits a penalty in the final minute of each half. If officials call a penalty, the opponent has the option to accept the penalty and the 10-second rundown, accept the penalty without the 10-second rundown, or to decline both the 10-second rundown and the penalty.
FROM THE RULEBOOK
What is unsportsmanlike conduct? Here's what the 2011 rulebook says:
"No player, substitute, coach or other person subject to the rules shall use abusive, threatening or obscene language or gestures, or engage in such acts that provoke ill will or are demeaning to an opponent, to game officials or to the image of the game, including but not limited to:
(a) Pointing the finger(s), hand(s), arm(s) or ball at an opponent, or imitating the slashing of the throat.
(b) Taunting, baiting or ridiculing an opponent verbally.
(c) Inciting an opponent or spectators in any other way, such as simulating the firing of a weapon or placing a hand by the ear to request recognition.
(d) Any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves).
(e) An unopposed ball carrier obviously altering stride as he approaches the opponent's goal line or diving into the end zone.
(f) Removal of a player's helmet before he is in the team area
(Exceptions: Team, media or injury timeouts; equipment adjustment; through play; between periods; and during a measurement for a first down).
(g) Punching one's own chest or crossing one's arms in front of the chest while standing over a prone player.
(h) Going into the stands to interact with spectators, or bowing at the waist after a good play."