For more than 10 years I’ve covered auto racing, so I know a little bit about “playing in the gray area of the rulebook.”
Playing in the gray area of the rulebook is a pretty common term in racing. Basically it means, you’re not playing by the exact letter of the rulebook, but not cheating by the perfect definition either.
It’s a matter of finding a loophole in the rules, and then using that loophole to your benefit.
Friday night Larry Taylor was clearly playing in the gray area of the rulebook against Louisville at Rentschler Field.
But here’s the thing about playing in the gray area in NASCAR. It’s tolerable, to a point, when a team is looking for a competitive advantage. But the powers that be don’t tolerate it all when it comes to safety. There’s no gray area when it comes to the well being of competitors.
And this is where I think things get interesting when examining what took place between the lines on Rentschler Field Friday night as it relates to Taylor’s 74-yard punt return touchdown early in the second half of UConn’s 21-17 victory.
The fair catch rule is in place for the protection of players. It’s not about competitive advantage, it’s about safety. It’s in place to ensure that a punt can be caught safely as a return man looks up to the sky with players bearing down on him with 40-yards of steam built up.
Taylor played in the gray area with the definition of the rule that is in place to protect him from injury. Every indication is that Taylor knew exactly what he was doing when he stretched his arm out as the punt was falling from the sky and Louisville defenders were bearing down on him.
Taylor said he asked an official right before the punt what he had to do to signal a fair catch. The rule basically says you have to put your hand over your head and wave it more than once.
No, Taylor didn’t do exactly that. But did he know what he was doing? The indications are that he did. And that’s really too bad because it truly goes against the spirit of a rule that is in place to protect him.
Say what you will about “that’s the breaks” and “and play until there’s a whistle” and “bad calls happen.” Here’s the fact, Taylor took advantage of a rule in the rulebooks there to ensure that he himself doesn’t get hurt.
To me that’s just plain wrong.
I’m not going to go and say the win is tainted. Really, who knows what would have happened after that if Taylor had just caught the ball and the play was whistled dead.
But I think the bigger problem is how what Taylor and UConn did will be perceived by other teams, by other coaches in the Big East. And what will the ramifications of it be?
This much is certain, don’t be surprised to see Taylor get leveled one or two times later this year after raising his arm before catching a punt. Other teams now can’t be blamed for making sure they don’t get the same trick played on them.
And how will coaches look at the sportsmanship level the UConn football team carries themselves with if they see players using rules in place to protect them to get unfair advantages and then hear a head coach after the game basically say he didn’t even see it happen?
And then there's the truly worrisome part of it all.
When Taylor gets carted off the field on a stretcher, unconscious, or dare we say even paralyzed (it’s football, it happens), because some return defender has it in his mind what happened to Louisville, the only one that you’ll be able to blame for it is Taylor himself for setting the precedent of what he might do on a return.
That right there is a scary thought.
Shawn Courchesne, 5:03 a.m.