Todd Geerlings, the head official on the officiating crew from the Pinstripe Bowl earlier today, explained the reasoning for the call after the game in pool quotes provided to media members.
Kansas State lost 36-34 to Syracuse when officials flagged Wildcats receiver Adrian Hilburn for excessive celebration. Hilburn he saluted in the direction of the crowd after scoring on a 30-yard catch-and-run that gave Kansas State an opportunity to tie the game. But a 15-yard penalty was assessed on the two-point conversion try, which Kansas State failed to convert.
It was a Big Ten officiating crew.
Here's the full text of Geerling's explanation:
Excessive celebration is rule 9-2-1d, which states a penalty is called for:
"Any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player attempts to focus attention on himself (or themselves)."
What exactly caused the penalty?
"It was the salute, which was the judgment of the calling officials, which were the head linesman and the back judge. Two officials threw the flag, both judged it to be drawing attention to themselves, and that's what the flag was for."
Were you watching for any celebrations?
"These kinds of excessive celebrations have been a priority in the rulebook for the last several years. There's a whole page in the rulebook pertaining to sportsmanship."
That's a pretty weak explanation.
Regardless of the wording of the rule, officials have to take into account context as well as timing. Plenty of players' actions after scoring are far more animated and draw plenty more attention, but you don't see those flagged.
For that flag to be thrown at such a crucial moment only makes it worse.