NCAA Rule 12.5 Cautions – Is this good enough when the language is bad?

by John Kipp,   National Clinician

It took me a while to put my thoughts into words, and I did get a little help from a few informed NCAA friends. Language issues and their effect on the collegiate match should be clearly understood by the NISOA referee crew. Let’s take a look at a few ‘Approved Rulings’ from the current NCAA Soccer Rules Book:

A.R. 12.5.4 (Page 73) “A player misses a shot and uses incidental profanity directed at no one in particular.” RULING: The referee SHALL caution the player.  (emphasis added)

A.R. 12.3.7.a. (Page 71) “If the referee believes that a player, coach or other bench personnel uses abusive, threatening or obscene language/gestures unintentionally, may the referee decide not to eject the individual?” RULING: NO! (emphasis added)

Thus, the NCAA referee crew should easily distinguish the difference between an incidental “muttering” compared to an outright and hostile use of language. It’s that easy. But is it?

Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. There is always the contradiction in our mind between what the ‘book’ says and what we think we can manage in the ‘spirit of the game.’ We have heard the mentors in our game tell us that a coach’s job can hang in the balance due to their won-loss record. So, ejecting their star player for a profane outburst clashes head-long with our sense of fairness and what is good for the game. But should it?

The NCAA takes a very dim view of this language issue and we are going to help you understand what is not “forgiven” and what may give you “wiggle room.” Let’s start with what is a red card in every case by NCAA rule:

1)     The F-Bomb and any variation on this theme

2)     References to anatomy or reproductive organs associated with same

3)     Other cultures versions of the first two items

4)     Bull****; especially in reference to an official’s decision

5)     Anything that is racist or derogatory based upon a person’s cultural heritage

6)     Anything sexist or derogatory based upon a person’s sexual orientation

7)     Anything YOU PERSONALLY VIEW as abusive, threatening or obscene (emphasis added)

8)     Any of these when directed AT a person

Anything that does not fit the above? There’s the wiggle room.

Note- in point number seven we highlighted the word ABUSIVE. Many times a coach or player is given a yellow card for dissent and they persist in their point-of-view, up to and including a vile epithet. Often, Regional Representatives receive reports as “Conduct Related” = Second yellow card for further dissent / Ejection. We suggest that this is an improper application of the NCAA rules. When a coach or player is cautioned for dissent and they continue to harass, harangue and argue their point – this is not further dissent – it has quickly escalated to referee abuse. Once the verbal activity crosses the line from ‘simple’ dissent of your decision to a concerted effort to malign the referee or crew in front of everyone within hearing; this, we submit, is no longer dissent. Pull out your red card and stop this immediately.

Sometimes, when the language is mild enough for the referee only – the “look” may be all you need. Perhaps a short talk as you slide by the player to set the bar is all that is necessary. If the message is sent firmly, quickly, with emphasis and intent – that may be all you need for the rest of the day. However, if the language is enough to earn a yellow card by rule – give it. And if it fits the eight guidelines printed above, please do us all a favor and do what the rules require. The NCAA Men’s or Women’s Soccer Rules will back you, and frankly, the game is better when the rules are applied as written.