PIAA concerned with rising ejection rates among boys soccer players, coaches

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Monday, December 5, 2022 | 11:10 AM


The PIAA was optimistic that the rising number of player and coach ejections would subside statewide after adding a two-game suspension in 2020 for the most egregious unsportsmanlike acts.

Two years later, that optimism has waned, especially when it comes to boys soccer.

The PIAA counted 338 ejections this fall in that sport alone, a 19% increase from 285 in the 2021 season. Among those ejections, the incidents deemed worthy of a two-game suspension also increased from 99 to 149.

This year’s totals are on the agenda for discussion when the PIAA board meets Wednesday in Mechanicsburg. In recent months, executive director Bob Lombardi has suggested the PIAA should rethink its current approach to discipline and maybe increase the impact for an ejection, particularly in soccer.

“Maybe we have to separate soccer out if they’re not going to slow down,” Lombardi said, “because that’s the one that seems to keep going.”

There were 337 boys soccer ejections in 2019, a year before the extra-game suspension was adopted. In 2020, the total dropped to 200, including 57 who received a two-game suspension.

But the numbers have climbed since.

The WPIAL isn’t immune to the problem. In fact, the WPIAL led all 12 PIAA districts in boys soccer ejections this fall with 87, including 33 with unsportsmanlike actions considered egregious enough by officials to earn the two-game suspension. All ejections draw an automatic one-game suspension.

In comparison, the WPIAL had 60 ejections in football and 18 in girls soccer.

The WPIAL board discussed the league’s ejection numbers in executive session before its November meeting. If the trend is allowed to continue, the results would be detrimental to high school athletics, WPIAL executive director Scott Seltzer said.

“We’re having a problem getting officials,” Seltzer said. “People don’t want to do that job if you’re going to be ridiculed and yelled at and called all sorts of things.”

The WPIAL had 37 more boys soccer ejections than PIAA District 3, despite that Harrisburg-area district having nine more teams.

Seltzer said he reads the ejection reports filed by the officials and consistently finds the suspensions warranted.

“I’ve never read a report and said, ‘Yeah, that just doesn’t seem right,’ ” he said.

Statewide ejections in football and girls soccer held steady this season. Football had 223 ejections, down one from last fall. Girls soccer dropped from 66 to 58.

Cross country, field hockey and girls volleyball combined for seven ejections.

It’s hard to explain why boys soccer has considerably more ejections than any of the other sports, said Seltzer, but he did point to differences in the way on-field fouls are officiated.

For example in soccer, some rough-play infractions will earn an automatic red card and ejection, while in football a personal foul receives a 15-yard penalty. But Seltzer said an elevated number of soccer ejections for language infractions is harder to accept.

“We can disagree with a call,” Seltzer said. “I don’t think anybody has a problem when you disagree with a call. It’s maybe how you’re coming across in disagreeing and the things you’re calling officials.”

The PIAA counted more than 40 ejections in one weekend this fall, the most seen in such a small time frame, said assistant executive director Pat Gebhart, who oversees PIAA game officials.

“I don’t know if this conduct starts at practice and carries over to games, but somehow coaches have to instill in the bad actors — the kids and the coaches themselves — that you can’t do this,” Gebhart said. “Officials don’t like throwing people out. We want kids and coaches to participate. But when they act out, I want (the officials) to take action. They’re almost obligated to take action.”

Lombardi wondered if soccer should have a three-game suspension. The current two-game suspension applies to all sports equally, regardless of the number of total games in a season.

“We’ve got to get our coaches’ attention,” Lombardi said. “Our coaches don’t realize the power they have to just say, ‘Guys we’re not doing this.’ I don’t know why they’re letting guys act poorly.”

Of the 87 boys soccer ejections this season in the WPIAL, 67 were athletes and 20 were coaches. The coach ejections concerned the WPIAL board most.

“I’ll forgive a kid for anything they do,” Seltzer said. “I really will because brain development is all based on emotions and things of that nature. They don’t foresee consequences real well.

“But when adults are doing that and they’re setting that example, I think that’s what our board members are really getting sick of: the number of adult ejections for language abuse.”

Among the 20 WPIAL boys soccer coaches ejected this season, 10 received a two-game suspension. Seltzer was a member of the PIAA board in 2020 when the two-game suspension was added to the rules.

“The idea was that we had to do something,” Seltzer said, “so let’s try this.”

He now agrees the two-game suspension hasn’t provided the quick fix they’d hoped.

“I don’t think it curbed it enough,” Seltzer said. “Something has to be done.”

PIAA ejection totals

The PIAA saw a 19% increase this fall in boys soccer ejections statewide compared to last season. The number of individuals also receiving a two-game suspension as supplemental discipline for unsportsmanlike acts is listed in parenthesis.

Boys soccer

2021 season: 285 (99)

2022 season: 338 (149)

Girls soccer

2021 season: 66 (25)

2022 season: 58 (25)

Cross country

2021 season: 1 (1)

2022 season: 0 (0)

Field hockey

2021 season: 6 (2)

2022 season: 6 (3)

Football

2021 season: 224 (178)

2022 season: 223 (174)

Girls volleyball

2021 season: 1 (1)

2022 season: 1 (0)

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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