Disrespect toward on-field officials, from players and coaches, is on the increase in high school soccer. Jon Bartlett, athletic director at Boston College High School, believes that kind of behavior is permeating the culture of the game.
The data supports his conclusion. In 2018, 1,190 yellow cards were handed out by officials in boys' and girls' soccer games in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. That number rose to 1,426 cards last fall. Red cards, resulting in game disqualifications, increased from 70 to 84 in the same period, a 20 percent rise.
The MIAA’s Soccer Committee took a dramatic step Tuesday morning in an attempt to prevent those types of interactions.
Effective immediately, any player that moves inside a 6-foot perimeter of an official to argue a call will receive an automatic red card. The rule change was spurred on by a letter to the soccer committee from Bartlett. According to Rob Pearl, the MIAA’s liaison to the soccer committee, the rule was written for players, but it will at the referee’s discretion “if a coach is out of control.” Under the heading “Interaction with Officials,” and 2020 modifications for COVID-19, “Athletes should not approach a referee closer than 6 feet at any time.”
“[Players] feel that it’s accepted that they can say something to a referee in disagreement,” Bartlett said in a phone conversation after the meeting. "In any other sport, they can’t talk back to an official without some sort of repercussions.
“I think the issue that comes up is that a teenager feels like a ref can be approached during a game, that it can proceed to the next level with anger or a kid can get into a ref’s face.”
In a notable incident last November, a pair of Martha’s Vineyard players shoved an official after their team was eliminated from the Division 3 South tournament by Norwell, 1-0, on a penalty kick with 15 seconds left in regulation. A Vineyard player had been whistled for deliberately handling the ball. The two players were suspended from participating in all high school sports for a year by the MIAA.
At the conclusion of last season, teams from Norwood, Palmer, Saugus, Greater New Bedford, and Swampscott were cited by the MIAA for having excessive cards. School officials were not called before the association before the shutdown because of the pandemic, but the situation has since been addressed.
The 2020 Fall I season for soccer will start for many programs in the next week. For many schools, practice will start on Friday. But when games do start, modifications have been made to facilitate social distancing: no slide tackling, throw-ins will become “kick-ins,” goalies cannot propel the ball past midfield, no headers, and teams will play quarters instead of halves. Masks must be worn at all times unless a player is not around an opponent or teammate, and ends of quarters will serve as mask breaks.
The Greater Boston League, the Mayflower League, and the South Coast Conference have shifted all fall sports to Fall II, slated to begin on Feb. 22, 2021.