PIAA adopts two-game unsportsmanlike suspension, including 'racially insensitive comments'

(Greensburg) Tribune-Review (TNS)
Bob Lombardi

The PIAA strengthened its stance against “ethnic and racially insensitive comments” by making those and other unsportsmanlike actions punishable with a two-game suspension.

The board on Monday unanimously approved added discipline for coaches and athletes ejected for the most egregious infractions. That list also includes foul or vulgar language and physical contact with a game official, coach or athlete. In the past, any ejection came with an automatic one-game suspension.

Now, officials can double that discipline.

“It will be immediate,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said, “and we will receive a report.”

The individual ejected will be notified at the game and the PIAA typically follows up within 24 hours, Lombardi said. Schools can appeal the suspension but only in the case of a misidentification or a misapplication of a rule.

“If it’s the judgment of the official, it’s final,” Lombardi said.

The rule was written to halt a rising tide of ejections. Soccer routinely produces the most, but football ejections increased from 205 in 2015 to 255 in 2019.

“We’re hoping that this will drive the disqualifications down and we won’t have to worry about that issue,” Lombardi said. “That would be wonderful.”

Critics have argued that the rule unfairly punishes players and coaches of football more harshly than other sports. A two-game suspension in football represents 20% of a 10-game regular season but only 9% of a 22-game basketball schedule.

If the ejection occurs in the first quarter, a player or coach would miss almost three games.

“That was vetted at the beginning of this process,” Lombardi said. “It was on the table that two games could be a very heavy penalty for football, depending on when it happened in the playing of a game. … But they were very, very concerned that football is starting to creep up the chain, and they thought the punishment for that type of behavior and language is appropriate.”

When the writing process started for the new rule, punishment for ethnic and racial comments wasn’t specifically included, but the PIAA added that language in recent weeks.

Race-related comments “don’t show up very often (in ejection reports), but if and when they do, they’re awful,” Lombardi said. “This is a point of emphasis we’ve had with our officials over the years.”

Game officials are required to read a sportsmanship message to coaches and team captains before every contest. The statement condemns actions meant to demean opposing athletes, teams, spectators or officials.

PIAA District 1 chairman Michael Barber recommended adding that sentiment to the suspension rule.

“Any comments that are related to race or ethnicity have to be dealt with, with swift and immediate action,” PIAA assistant executive director Pat Gebhart said. “Dr. Barber’s suggestion to put this in — especially in light of everything going on right now — is a good move. I think officials also are tired of the commentary. Not just toward them but toward the opponents.”