Earlier this month, the Utah High School Activities Association gave a figurative yellow card to high school football when the UHSAA executive committee placed the entire sport on a trial period of at least three years.
This means that every team in the state will play two fewer games per season, and the sport’s probationary status will be assessed annually by a committee as a result of the growing number of exclusions from the sport due to unsportsmanlike conduct and conduct.
There were 164 red cards issued to players and coaches last season, according to the UHSAA. Approximately 984 boys’ football games have been played this season, according to MaxPreps.
According to the UHSAA Sports Emissions Report, provided by the Standard-Examiner via a source with access to the report, 164 emissions exceed last year’s figure of 143.
The discussion about probation that followed revolved around several things, some of which were rational and some of which were ludicrous.
One topic of discussion is that the UHSAA “unfairly” compares ejection problems in youth football to problems in other sports.
Indeed, football has lower and more subjective emission targets, so let’s compare them to women’s football emissions last season: 31.
Another – laughable – theme claims that the referees manipulate the games and deliberately get them out of control. It’s as if the judges want to be treated with even more dislike in an environment that has become a more hostile environment to work with every year.
This whole discussion overlooks why the UHSAA should have done anything at all.
The reason we are here is because there is a widespread and toxic behavioral problem in youth football in particular that goes much deeper than the fact that at least 164 red cards have been issued to players and managers this season.
Let’s look at numbers and fine print.
In total, there were 164 eliminations from approximately 984 games last season in youth football. Boys’ soccer dropouts accounted for 48.2% of total dropouts across all sports last school year, according to data provided by the Standard-Examiner.
This is up from 143 red cards in the 2021 season, representing 40.3% of the statewide total.
Of the 164 red cards, 50 were issued to players who received a second yellow card, so there is probably a combination of circumstances that led to these double yellow cards and it is therefore unreasonable to assume that all 50 were related to sportsmanship issues.
Then 43 out of 164 red cards were issued for aggressive behavior, which means serious and rather reckless play with or without the ball, which is quite normal in football, but still deserves a red card.
The remaining 71 red cards were issued for “language or gestures/fighting/violation of rights/denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity/taunting/unsportsmanlike conduct”.
It’s fair to say that most of the 164 red cards were issued for pretty bad reasons. Keep in mind these numbers are for red cards. The figures do not include the number of yellow cards issued or verbal warnings for “unsportsmanlike conduct”.
When the trial period was announced, the UHSAA issued a five-sentence press release stating that the organization would not comment.
The last line of the letter was revealing.
“Note – UHSAA believes schools/officials do not report other exemptions.”
Of course, the overwhelming number of problems on the field, but let’s not pretend that the fans are not involved in the incessant and sometimes insane insults of the referees.
This is also not a new problem. In 2007, youth football was on probation. It’s bad that I thought about the last season and realized that it was not much different from other seasons.
In 2017, when I was at St. George’s, a Snow Canyon fan ran out of the stands after winning a Snow Canyon game and punched then SCHS Assistant Coach Zach Hales in the face.
In 2018, an Ogden fan ran onto the pitch and asked the referee to yell about some kind of foul or non-participation after a game with Juan Diego.
Earlier this season, after the first game between Davis and Farmington, Davis’ administrators kicked off a fan who ran up to the umpires after the final whistle to, you guessed it, complain.
There were many more nasty games on the field, including but not limited to the second leg of Ogden and Leighton Christian, the Morgan State/RSL Academy 3A semi-final, and the Farmington/Herriman 6A semi-final.
There were many other games where the referee did not pull out either a red card or even a yellow card for “unsportsmanlike” behavior. As in previous years.
(On the other hand, when has complaining to judges ever helped? Decisions are final. Move on.)
In any case, the behavior problem is so widespread that the UHSAA needs to do something about it.
Is putting all sports on probation, a move that has made headlines across the country, the right thing to do? We will only find out after the 2023 season.
At the moment, there are teams that are unfairly punished with probation, so this is not a reason to rejoice. Future players who have nothing to do with the sport’s probationary status are also being unfairly punished, and in any case, they have no incentive to behave well yet.
All we know is that boys football will be judged annually over a three-year trial period. What specifically does the UHSAA want to see in sports next year? Probably fewer red cards, but other than that it’s not 100% clear.
Could the UHSAA have singled out some of the most “problematic” schools and coaches instead of probation?
Perhaps removing coaches from the troublemaking programs might do something. Perhaps the red card suspension could be extended to two games instead of one.
We can argue about whether probation is the right decision. I’m certainly not a fan of this; however, this is a good chance for everyone to look inside themselves, understand that there are problems in boys’ football and try to fix them.
It is difficult to find a solution to a problem whose roots are as deep as they are.
Contact reporter Patrick Carr at [email protected], Twitter @patrickcarr_ and Instagram @standardexaminersports.