In a video from the Nov. 13 Oregon-Cal game that has become a YouTube favorite, Bears defensive lineman Aaron Tipoti is seen strolling back to the line between plays; he stops, looks to the sideline and falls to the turf, a hand on his leg—landing on the football just after it's been set for Oregon's next offensive play. The clip, which attracted over 300,000 views in four days, has been dissected like the Zapruder film by the Oregon faithful, who claim that Tipoti's seeming acting job confirms what they've long suspected: Teams have resorted to faking injuries on the field to stall the Ducks' breathless no-huddle offense.
Oregon fans have been squawking for weeks. In their team's October win over Stanford, a Cardinal linebacker needed trainers' help to limp off the field. A play later he jogged back on. In September an Arizona State linebacker was accused of flopping on the field as if he were a player on the Dutch national soccer team, and Oregon coach Chip Kelly compared the Oregon-ASU meeting to "a World Cup game, with ... the injuries."
Last week Cal coach Jeff Tedford denied allegations that he ordered the diving against Oregon, but according to John Hunt of The Oregonian, "a source within the Bears football program" admitted that having players feign injuries was "a big part" of what seemed to be an effective game plan: In a 15--13 loss the Bears held the nation's then-top-ranked offense to by far its lowest output of the season.
Flopping in football is as old as leather helmets. In the NFL it's called a scuba: A player takes a dive to give his teammates a breather. But with the proliferation of spread offenses like Oregon's, will flopping become accepted strategy in college football? In a September game against Texas A&M, two Stephen F. Austin players were caught on video collapsing simultaneously, as if choreographed. How can the NCAA combat flopping? The Pac-10 is "aware of the issue and looking into it," says conference vice president Kirk Reynolds, but under the rules there's nothing officials can do. Faking injuries is listed under "unethical practices" in the rule book, but officials can't be asked to make snap medical judgments on the field. What the NCAA can do is require teams to burn timeouts for injuries or have players who come out sit for the rest of the series.
For now, fans at Autzen Stadium are booing opposing players they believe are flopping. Said Kelly, "I know what our fans' reaction is when someone's carted off ... and is back immediately. I think we've got pretty intelligent fans."
ACE OF FAKES Tipoti's fishy fall, captured on YouTube (left), evoked soccer's Cristiano Ronaldo (above).
ELISA ESTRADA/REAL MADRID/GETTY IMAGES (RONALDO)
[See caption above]