Was Baker Mayfield’s midfield flag plant at Ohio State wrong?

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 09: Baker Mayfield
COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 09: Baker Mayfield /

By now everyone has seen or heard about Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield racing to midfield after the game at Ohio State on Saturday with the OU flag in tow and enthusiastically planting the flag dead center on the 50-yard line at Ohio Stadium.

Reactions to this postgame celebration, however, have been quite mixed.

If you are a Sooner fan, you couldn’t get enough of it and reveled in seeing Mayfield waving the school flag and taking off on a victory lap of sorts with the full intent of staking the Sooners’ claim at the center of the field, much like the tradition enjoyed by the winner of the Red River Showdown between OU and Texas.

For Ohio State fans, though, such exhaltation, especially the act of planting a school flag other than your own, on your school’s logo at midfield, represents the height of disrespect.

No team or fan base wants to be a party to, or stand idly by, while the other team holds a victory celebration on your field. But let’s face it, that’s just part of the nature of sports competition, especially at the collegiate level, where the team spirit and enthusiasm. and all the pageantry and tradition that surrounds it, is what makes college football such a wildly popular and pleasurable experience for so many.

There is no escaping the fact that this was a huge game with high stakes attached — the No. 5 team in the nation against the No. 2 team, with almost certain College Football Playoff implications. You can imagine that the nerves on both teams were wound pretty tight. Whichever team came out on top in the end clearly deserved to be chest-pounding proud and excited over what they had accomplished.

A year ago, when these two teams met in Norman, the stakes and circumstances were very similar, but the results were very different. Ohio State dominated the Sooners like no other team in all of 2017. The Buckeyes doubled the score on Oklahoma in the opening half and held on for a decisive 45-24 victory. Following the game, it was the Buckeyes who were in a celebratory mood on the field before heading to the locker room.

The Ohio State celebration culminated with the Buckeye players gathering at midfield and serenading the Buckeye fans who were in attendance with sing the alma mater.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

That is something that did not sit right with most Oklahoma fans, and particularly bothered Mayfield, to the extent that he was still talking about it last week in the buildup to the rematch in Columbus.

With that as backstory, it is a little easier to understand what may have compelled Mayfield to do what he did in the postgame excitement after the Sooners’ decisive win on Saturday. But was it the right thing to do as the unquestionable team leader and the player, more than any other, who is the face of this Oklahoma team?

After the game on Saturday, I heard one Oklahoma City sportswriter describe the incident as “Baker being Baker.” We all know that Mayfield is highly excitable and as competitive as they come. So it wasn’t at all surprising to see the Sooner quarterback high-fiving fans and teammates and proudly waving and running about with the OU flag.

He probably could have done without bee-lining to midfield to plant the flag as if he were a Sooner staking a claim in the Oklahoma land rush (he actually couldn’t get it into the ground because of the synthetic grass at Ohio Stadium, but he certainly gave it the old college try). But so what, we all know it was done in fun. No one was hurt or injured, nor was that the intent.

Some will argue that, although this was a big game on a big stage, it still was only the second game of the season and not a championship game. The rationale behind this thinking is that teams and their players should not treat the moment, especially this early in a season, as if they have never experienced a big victory before. That may be the politically correct way of handing the situation, but we’re talking about college kids and a college football environment not a winning vote on an important piece of legislation on the floor of Congress.

Just as opinions are mixed on whether Mayfield’s flag incident was over the top and disrespectful or should be dismissed as kids having fun and no harm, no foul, there are countering views on whether the Sooner quarterback needed to issue a public apology.

He did so anyway, and he did it entirely on his own. OU head coach Lincoln Riley told Oklahoma City Oklahoman sports columnist Jenni Carlson that issuing the apology was all Mayfield’s idea.

"“It was an emotional game,” Mayfield told reporters at the weekly Oklahoma football press luncheon. “I told you guys last week that it was going to have a lot of implications on the Playoff. It was an emotional game, and so after the game I did not mean for it to be disrespectful toward any Ohio State people at all, especially not the team or the players.“They’re a great team, a great program, so I didn’t mean for it to be disrespectful at all.”"

Mayfield and his Sooner teammates played an outstanding game and beat a very good Ohio State team. Unfortunately, the bigger storyline coming out of Saturday’s game was Mayfield planting the OU flag at midfield and not how well he played in carving up the Buckeye defense and leading his team to a big upset win.

What Mayfield did on the field at Ohio State after the game sadly took away from his brilliant performance on the field during the game.

It was a tremendous Oklahoma football performance, a terrific victory over a legitimate top-five team and fun to see all the enthusiasm and spirt afterwards. With as many as many as a dozen more games to go in the 2017 season, though, it might be best to save some of that energy, effort and enthusiasm for some pretty big games ahead.