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In ‘Clarification,’ NCAA Says Brief On-Field Prayers Allowed

September 1, 1995

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) _ Hit with a lawsuit from Jerry Falwell’s Baptist college, the NCAA said Friday that football players can kneel in prayer on the field after a big play as long as they don’t make a spectacle of themselves.

The dispute involved the NCAA’s newly enforced no-gloating rule, which was designed to stop in-your-face showboating and other unsportsmanlike displays in the end zone. NCAA officials had said that the rule prohibited on-field kneeling and praying.

A day after Liberty University went to court to block the rule, however, the NCAA issued a ``clarification″ and said a player can briefly kneel in prayer.

Vince Dooley, chairman of the NCAA Football Rules Committee, said it was never the intent of the National Collegiate Athletic Association to ban on-field prayer.

``However, overt acts which may be associated with prayer, such as kneeling, may not be done in a way that is delayed, excessive or prolonged in an attempt to draw attention to oneself,″ Dooley wrote in a memo Friday to coaches and game officials.

``Players may pray or cross themselves without drawing attention to themselves. It is also permissible for them to kneel momentarily at the conclusion of play if, in the judgment of the official, the act is spontaneous and not in the nature of a pose.″

In response to the clarification, Liberty dropped its lawsuit, which had claimed that the NCAA ban was religious discrimination and violated civil rights law.

School spokesman Mark DeMoss said the university got what it wanted, although parts of the clarified rule ``leave some things up to interpretation.″

``This memo, which I assume is in response to the suit we filed, permits what we have always done and what was asked for in the suit,″ DeMoss said. ``Liberty will be watching closely to see how the rule is applied by officials.″

The 3-year-old rule bans players from removing their helmets, taunting the crowd or opposing players, and posing or dancing after touchdowns or big plays. (For years, spiking the ball on the ground after a touchdown has drawn a 5-yard penalty.)

One provision specifically bans ``any delayed, excessive or prolonged act by which a player attempts to focus attention upon himself.″

However, the rule does allow a group of players to gather briefly in prayer on the field after a big play. Players can also pray on the sidelines.

The ban is being enforced this year at the behest of the rules committee, NCAA spokesman Greg Summers said.

The Flames open their season Saturday night against West Virginia Tech in Lynchburg, about 90 miles west of Richmond. Liberty coach Sam Rutigliano had said that his players had his blessing to defy the rule and pray despite the threat of a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff.

``I feel it’s my right and it’s my opportunity to give thanks to God,″ said Liberty quarterback Antwan Chiles, who kneels in the end zone after running touchdowns.

``I want the kids across America to look at me and know that I have a higher power, and that’s God. His Son died on the cross. The least we could do is get on one knee and give thanks.″

Falwell founded the university in 1971. Its enrollment has grown to 9,000.

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