A few times during the season I will inevitably get a coach that yells to me, “How is it that my team has seven penalties and the other team only has two?” The off-the-cuff answer of, “well coach, your team is fouling more,” rarely goes over well. I will usually respond with one of two phrases:
- “Coach I’m just calling what I see”
- “Coach I’m calling the game fair but not equal”
The idea of fair but not equal is a tough concept to get for many people. If the officials are calling all the penalties on the Red team then clearly the officials are against the Red team. The idea that the Red team may actually be fouling more than the Blue team is not often brought into the discussion.
For example I had a youth game late in the season and my partner and I threw about fifteen flags on one team to the other team’s three. You look at the box score of the game and the disparity between the two teams on penalty time is vast. The team that we threw all of the flags on were fouling big time. Huge wind-up checks that never found the stick or glove. Hits with a twenty yard running start, and hits that were well away from the ball. Never forget that an official’s primary job is safety. So in the interest of safety my partner and I kept throwing our flags hoping that this team would get the message.
The coach of the penalized team complained to me that I was not calling things equally. I told him he was absolutely right. There is nothing in the job description of an official to balance out the scorebook on penalty minutes. I’m not looking for fouls on the other team just because I threw five flags in a row on their opponent. If the other team is not fouling then trying to manufacture fouls on them would be considerably unfair. The second job of every official is fairness, and if we try to call things equally we inevitably find ourselves not being fair.
I told the coach I was only going to call what I saw and judged to be a penalty. His team continued to rack up time in the penalty box while their opponent played under control. His team lost the game. Not because of the calls my partner and I made, but because his team could not check with discipline. Believe it or not, most officials do not like throwing flags and penalizing players. However, it is our job to make the necessary calls when players go beyond the rules of the game. I do not hesitate in making calls when I have to, but I am never going to try and even out the flags I throw between two teams so everyone has the same net amount of penalty minutes. That would be equal but not fair.