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So about the Major League Soccer Disciplinary Committee

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MLS Logo 2
MLS Logo 2

Now I know that everything about this group is supposed to be hush, hush to the public but come on really in this day and age of trying to be transparent. I mean the mission statement of the group is:

To preserve the integrity and reputation of the game and Major League Soccer, and to assist in ensuring player safety.

Now that is a worthy mission statement for a group, but is that really what they are about? I mean within a half page of their Guidelines for 2010 (the most recent version I was able to dig up), they go on talk about a virtual gag order on players and team staff who might question the officials. We did see a bigger fine for questioning the officials this year than either fine given to players who this group deemed worthy of punishment for diving. The very nature of this group isn't to preserve the integrity of the game it is to add additional punishment. Did they preserve the integrity of the game by reversing the red card falsely given to Nat Borchers back on July 4th against New England, or the one given to Jonh Kennedy Hurtado on September 10th? Nope they were silent on those events and many others this year that directly impacted both the integrity and reputation of the game and Major League Soccer.

Indeed the 6 person Committee actually spells out the things they do review you can see them after the jump:

So this list was the one going into 2010, to my understanding these were the standard from 2007 until this year:

  • Where the referee sees an incident and issues a red card, the Committee may review the play for further disciplinary action, over and above the mandatory suspension and fine. The Committee will add suspension and/or fines over and above the mandatory one game suspension for those offenses the Committee deems to be of an egregious or reckless nature, or where the Committee believes it must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game, including in particular but without limitation the dangerous use of elbows, forearms and fists to the head and neck of an opponent.
  • Where the referee does not see the incident and therefore does not have the opportunity to act, the Committee will review any and all evidence and may act to discipline a player (e.g., an off-the-ball offense).
  • Where the referee sees an incident and either does not act, or rules only a foul or only a yellow card, the Committee will not in general issue a suspension, unless:
    • The play in question is, in the unanimous opinion of the Committee from all the video evidence, a clear and unequivocal red card; and
    • The play in question is of an egregious or reckless nature, such that the Committee must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game.
  • In determining whether a play is egregious or reckless, all factors are taken into account, including the fact of injury to any player. Where there is no injury, the Committee will not act except in extraordinary or exceptional circumstances.

This year MLS added a couple more things:

  • When a player routinely and regularly commits dangerous offences. When a player routinely and regularly commits dangerous offences, the Committee will:
    • Inform both the player's Club and the MLS Players Union that his behavior is being monitored.
    • Consider supplemental discipline if disregard for player safety persists.
    • Institute a "Probationary" period.A player can be cleared of the period with good behavior; consistent with current good behavior incentive system for yellow cards.
  • In obvious examples of simulation/embellishment.
    • Disciplinary Committee must be unanimous in its view of the incident.
None of this is top secret, it is all on the league's website but there is more to the Committee and the way they go about things. Perhaps the most disturbing to me is the veil of secrecy around who is on the Committee and the gag order on themselves from talking about it, and on the players and the league who might question the decisions of officials. Trust me this year there was plenty to be talked about.

I think for me the issue comes down to a simple one I think the point of having a group dedicated to finding ways to add additional punishment to players and staff is counter productive to the mission statement that was given for this group. You can't protect the integrity of the game and league, if you are only looking to add more punishment, when bad red cards are issued and players are fined and suspended because of a bad call the integrity of the game is damaged and by refusing to look at both sides the Committee comes off as a heavy handed big brother instead of a group interested in the well being of the league and game.

I would also like to see more transparency from the Committee, and while I understand the need to not release the names of the members, I would like to see the league publish the minutes of their meetings online so fans can see what issues are being reviewed and what is being brought to the group to review. I have seen some of the types of things that are brought before the group in the past and I think making these things public would only help fans to understand the role of the Committee as well as how they are trying to accomplish their stated mission.

I would love to see MLS step up and institute instant reply on select plays, the game is faster than it has ever been and with MLS continuing to grow in the US, there is more at stake in each match. Playoff spots, Champions League eligibility and efforts to grow both the live gate and TV ratings. It would be a big step but I think it would make the stated mission of the Disciplinary Committee an easier on, as more decisions would be able to be corrected (not just additional punishment) during the match. Now I know that is unlikely to happen anytime soon, so how about 4 simple steps that can be made now for the 2012 season.

1. Get rid of the Disciplinary Committee Golden Rule - that rule states "Once the vote is cast, ALL members are bound to the outcome and NEVER reveal the nature of discussions or the actual votes of the Individual Disciplinary Committee Members"

2. As you get rid of that rule, a weekly report (including video) should be issued from the Committee and published on the MLS website. All the fans to know what is being done in the name of "protecting the integrity of the league and game", each vote should be reported not as who voted for or against but simply the final vote tally.

3. Fines should be based on player salary as a percentage and not just a flat fine, it is wrong to punish a player who makes 40K a year with the same fine as one who makes 400K or even 4 million a year.

4. Review and rescind red cards that are issued in error, just adding more punishment doesn't do anything to actually protect the integrity of the game, but fixing mistakes by eliminating fines and additional suspensions for wrongly issued red cards would say that they are interested in making the league and games better.

I think by doing those 4 things you would convince fans that you actually might have the best interest of the league and game in mind. Oh and MLS and their officials should get a thicker skin when it comes to players, coaches and staff questioning the performance of the officials, this year we have seen so many mistakes made that have directly impacted results that many of us are left wondering what the real standings would be without all those mistakes.

Anyhow those are my thoughts about the Disciplinary Committee, a group of 6 former players, officials and MLS staff members.

OFF MY SOAPBOX