On the new NESCAC soccer heckling rule

Near the beginning of September, a letter was circulated on behalf of NESCAC soccer coaches to parents of student-athletes, notifying them that Men’s Soccer will disallow booing or cheering against the visiting team starting this Fall.

The NESCAC ruling reads “As a supporter, we ask you not engage in any unsportsmanlike actions, which include booing, taunting, profanity, rude language or gestures, or any other action that could be potentially construed as negative or confrontational.” Apparently the conference feels the fans at Saturday afternoon soccer games have become too mean-spirited, and are affecting the purity of the game.

The ruling continued: “We would hope that all spectators refrain from antagonistic interaction between opposing fans, including verbal disputes, or holding/posting signs or other forms of written material that could be interpreted as offensive in nature.”

In 2011, a similar rule was put in place, but was not worded quite as strongly and used vague language to delineate its tangible goals.  It was aimed to “firmly address issues of unsporting behavior and negative action.” Apparently this rule didn’t do the job, because just three years later another was added.

The NESCAC soccer culture isn’t exactly what it is in Europe, where riots and brawls break out over games fairly regularly.  While the soccer culture at these bastions of higher learning is relatively tame, the ruling’s intentions are fairly clear.

According to the NCAA, athletes are still ‘just kids.’  Especially within the NESCAC and other Division III programs, athletes are often students before all else and play out of passion for the game. But you can’t tell me that we, as athletes and as fans, have lost our competitive edge.

While reading this ruling, it is hard not to picture a game where some kid with a goofy haircut was made fun of by a handful of students who were trying to impress the group of girls nearby.  However, also nearby within this completely fabricated scenario is the player’s parent, who is appalled. Within an hour, he or she has made numerous calls to the school, the league, and their lawyer. 

It may not be an overwhelmingly powerful rule—not to mention one that is nearly impossible to enforce—but it is a rule nonetheless.  

All 11 NESCAC head soccer coaches signed the ruling.  This means that all 11 head coaches decided this rule would be advantageous to their team in one way or another, which, in turn, means there clearly have been problems.  Given the nature of soccer, where players can easily hear fans (unlike football), they are outdoors (unlike basketball), and most fans feel more willing to yell, maybe the sideline peanut gallery has really gotten into the players’ heads.

This ruling is not at all surprising and is totally in-line with where the NCAA has been heading for years now: competition is fine, as long as it is held to the same standards as suburban youth soccer.

Rooting against the other team hurts their feelings. The ruling is affective immediately, so when Colby hosts Middlebury on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., fans should be on their best behavior. If we’re all quiet enough, we might all win trophies.

Leave a Reply