SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ The Utah High School Activities Association just gave boys soccer a yellow card.
If the players, coaches and even some parents don't shape up, a stiffer penalty could be coming. The UHSAA placed boys soccer _ the entire sport _ on probation, trying to get a handle on deteriorating sportsmanship and an alarming number of ejections.
``Based on the season, the board felt like it was time to act and send a strong signal,'' said Rob Cuff, UHSAA assistant director.
It could have been stronger. UHSAA, the governing body for high school athletics in the state, put both boys and girls soccer on probation in 1996 after a rash of unsportsmanlike incidents and reduced the regular season schedule by two games.
The board's decision Monday was basically a warning to soccer players, their coaches and fans attending the games that if the bad behavior continues, more will be done to restore sportsmanship and order to the games.
One player spit at an official and made an obscene gesture toward the official and the opposing fans on his way off the field, Cuff said. Another player shoved a referee. The two players involved were seniors and weren't going to be facing any more discipline, but UHSAA wants to be sure that younger teammates know that both instances were not tolerable behavior.
Cuff said everybody involved in the game _ players, coaches, officials and fans _ have room for improvement. He said sometimes parents' conduct was as bad as the teen players'.
Language, taunting and hard physical play were also on the list of matters UHSAA wants to see corrected. The board will review the 2008 season next spring and see how effective the probation was.
UHSAA also cited four schools for unsportsmanlike behavior during the state playoffs last month. Park City, Jordan and Dixie high schools were fined $500 and will play two fewer games in regular season next spring, although all three can appeal the sanction.
Bonneville High School will have a sportsmanship hearing in the fall because a coach berated an official after a playoff loss.
Mike Petty, UHSAA supervisor of officials, said referees will be reminded during their annual summer reviews that they also need to keep their cool during confrontations.
``Emotions kind of get high and elevated, we like them to make sure their emotions kind of calm down,'' Petty said.
Petty also said spitting and shoving incidents were rare enough that the officials aren't worried that safety matters had gotten out of hand.
The ejections this spring included 12 coaches and only 38 players were thrown out for receiving two yellow cards, which adds up to one red card and an automatic ejection. The 111 ejections were 23 more than UHSAA had in 2006, Cuff said. During the girls' season last fall, only 17 players and coaches were ejected.
``We can't compare to other sports, but we can compare boys soccer ejections to boys soccer ejections the last five-six years,'' Cuff said.
The message seemed to get across 11 years ago when both the boys and girls soccer were disciplined.
Cuff said coaches need to calm down players who receive yellow cards, which indicates they are one minor violation away from being ejected. He said officials need to call games more consistently, not letting little things go early in the game, allowing tension to build.
He said if crowds continue to be unruly, bringing in security as is done at football and basketball games could be an option.
``By all working together I think that this may be a positive in the sense that it's bringing attention to something that needs to be looked at,'' Cuff said.