How We and TV Make Touchy Referees

3 - Published May 14, 2013 by in College, High School, Youth

Imagine the whole realm of sports is blazing arms to prevent concussions, then imagine you are a referee for an important, televised NCAA Division 1 men’s playoff lacrosse game who is trying to their job, in front of thousands upon thousands of fans, coaches who know how to work the former statement to their benefit, and lacrosse analysts of all levels looking for falsities and inconsistencies in what you do (kind of like what I am doing right now) – sounds like a pretty hostile work environment…and, perhaps, so much so that one would change how they performed such a task.

In our current society of trends and ‘points of emphasis’ (a referee term), if you are not with the crowd, the truth of situations does not matter as much as the common goal of achieving whatever the status quo deems to be important: concussion prevention. I am not supporting a ‘release of the chains’ for all the weight room junkies to start preying on the weak with physical aggressiveness nor a blatant loosening up of the calls that are made without merit. Concussion prevention IS important.

What I am asking for is that either we play by the rules that are in the books, or change the rules, but please stop the confusion! How can we put out a set of rules, then not allow players to actually play by them, to the fullest extent. Of course, there is subjectivity in refereeing, like unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct, where the word unnecessary or unsportsmanlike is defined differently depending on what one personally believes to be necessary or sportsmanlike – there is no necessary-o-meter on which to rely, but that is besides the point. The point is that we have now created more of these subjective situations for the referees to decipher, by a mass advocation for concussion prevention to the point of infringing on what is a legal lacrosse play.

I believe we are in danger of the tipping point of referees making calls based on what the status quo wants instead of what the rulebook clearly says. I find myself, when watching many of these televised games, questioning the severity of the penalties that are called more often than not. Saying that, why is it totally okay for an offensive player to completely destroy a defending player on his path up the field, as long as the offensive player has two hands on his stick? Some of the nation’s top athletes are on the offensive end of the field, too, but this seems to get a pass.

There are, in fact, ways that you can legally check someone in lacrosse where the other player is going to feel it, but that’s part of why those rules exist. The defense gets some advantage back by being able to hit someone from the front, with their body, from their shoulders to their hips, with either their hands or shoulder. As players and coaches both know, they are going to have to deal with whatever call comes their way, but, when the actual meaning of the rules is so swayed by whatever the next point of emphasis is, this makes it a tall task for both referees and players – no one is really on the same page because of all the subjectivity involved!

This could simply be the nature of the beast, in that there are these types of subjectivities in all contact sports, but I saw some calls this weekend on TV that sway the line of truth and reaction to the status quo. As a coach, I think this has trickled down to refs the youth level, but it’s not as pressing, since thousands of people are not scrutinizing your every decision like on TV.

It seems to make more sense for points of emphasis to be cries for calling the game as the rules state, rather than just calling more penalties. Did the rules for hitting in lacrosse change? No. The only thing that changed was our perspective of what legal means by bringing more subjectivity to how the game is called.

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