Captain Killjoy vs The Trick Play
A trick play in California:
For those that don’t want to watch the video, the QB takes the ball and starts yelling at the sidelines that there’s something wrong with the ball. What the defense doesn’t realize is that technically the ball has been snapped and the play is afoot. He walks outside the defense’s reach and hauls arse for a touchdown.
There have been at least a couple Dead Ball Trick plays in Texas. One at the middle school level where a youngster took the ball and started walking forward as though there had been a penalty before taking off and one during high school playoffs where the ball was obviously snapped but half the defense was still caught off-guard. At the college level, BYU got flagged for a penalty (Video) on a play very much like the above one in California.
These plays tend to receive positive reviews for being innovative and smart. Let me explain why they, however cool they are, they are a bad idea.
Injuries are an issue in youth sports. This has become a more serious issue recent years, but it’s always been an issue. One of the important things to preventing injuries is to prevent hard hits on unsuspecting players. That’s why you can collide into somebody during a play, but a little bump can get you a fifteen yard penalty after the play is over. Because of this, it is very important that players know, as clearly as possible, when a play is occurring and when it is not.
We can look at college players and expect them to understand quite thoroughly what is going on. So I don’t really object to what BYU did (though the penalty call may have been appropriate for the same reason defensive players have penalties called on them for trying to muff up the offense’s snap count). But at the high school level and particularly the middle school level, these kids are still learning. In these cases, the defensive kids weren’t paying attention and so didn’t attack when they should have. In other cases, though, you run the opposite risk: A kid on the defense thinks that it’s a trick play and mauls an offensive player.
I like trick plays as much as the next guy. Flea flickers? Cool by me. Fake punts? Awesome. There are all sorts of tools like that in the toolkit. There is a line, though, and I confess watching middle schoolers try to create ambiguity on a dead play versus a live one (above and beyond trying to draw defenses offsides, I mean), makes me a bit uncomfortable.