By: John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician
There was a recent news article in the local newspaper about a basketball game with playoff implications. The home team fans created an environment that clearly did not express good sportsmanship or how a student should behave at a school sporting event. During the course of the article, the writer placed a significant amount of blame on the officials for not taking action to stop the situation. Very little was stated about the school administrators that may have been at the event or the home coach. Similar situations have occurred during soccer games and the officials should be prepared and know what should be done.
Rule 5 of the NCAA Rule Book , The Referee, describes the duties and powers of the game officials before, during and after the game. Rule 5..6, Discretionary Power, indicates that “the referee has discretionary power to: suspend the game whenever, by reason of the elements (example, Lightning Guidelines, Appendix C), interference by spectators or other cause, such action is deemed necessary.” The referee clearly has the power to suspend the game when spectators are interfering or creating an environment that is not conducive to a college athletic event. Spectators are to stay in the seating areas or remain behind ropes, fencing or other barriers. If spectators move too close to the touch line or goal line, the referee should stop the game and have the game administrators correct the problem. It should not be the referee’s responsibility to move the spectators. Every home team is responsible for spectator behavior.
Another example occurs when the spectators cross the line from cheering to taunting. This is clearly not in the spirit of the game. Some of the larger schools now have stands behind the goal. The spectators use this area to chant at the visiting goalkeeper. While this can be amusing, it can also cross the line and have an adverse impact on the game. The referee must know how far the fans can go without a negative impact on the game.
If spectators begin to cross the line into the area of taunting, the referee should suspend the game and communicate with the home head coach or school administrator. This communication should strictly state what the problem is and what is recommended to correct it. The referee should not threaten the school administrator or the fans directly. This is not professional. Ignoring the problem does not solve anything. More than likely, it will escalate and the players may take matters into their own hands to eliminate the taunting. This will create a very negative situation for the officiating team.
School administrators take sportsmanship very seriously. While administrators want fans to enjoy themselves, they do not want anything that can be perceived as a negative reflection on the school’s reputation. A newspaper article, a summary of a situation on a sports show or the news that does not present a positive image of a school creates problems for the entire administration.
The situation that was described in the opening paragraph resulted in follow-up articles and apologies from the home institution. In addition, a sensitivity session was held with the student body to explain how the behavior was improper. While this helps, the action should have been stopped when it first occurred. The officials should have gone to the on-site administrators and requested the fans’ behavior be corrected or have them removed from the site. This would have been the proper suspension of play. The officials choose to ignore it and allow the problem to escalate.
In summary, the NCAA Rule Book provides the referee the power to deal with spectator interference. Failing to do so means that the officials did not perform their duties.