The decision by MLS to beef up its Disciplinary Committee this year was always going to lead to controversy. After all, while two fouls may appear identical in terms of severity, that doesn’t mean the context in which they happened was identical, nor was the result. Still, fans have been well within their right this year to complain about the committee’s decisions for one simple reason: transparency.
Fans, players, referees, and coaches are consistently left scratching their heads at the committee’s decisions simply because they do not know the full rational behind them. For instance, why is one player suspended two games for a bad foul when others get none? Why was Rafa Marquez suspended for only three games when he was a repeat offender and broke a guy’s bone, when Ozzie Alonso got two for a bad tackle? Both were justified, but what was the reasoning behind the number of games?
MLS should take a page from the NHL and their disciplinary process. Bad hits and cheap shots will always happen in hockey, but a few years ago when hits to the head became more pronounced, the NHL decided to crack down. From then on, a player knew that if they hit someone in the head or committed a cheap shot, they were going to get suspended. But that is true for a bad foul in MLS as well. What separates the NHL system from the current MLS system is the explanation given by Brendan Shanahan (the NHL disciplinary czar) about why the suspension was given and why it was given a certain number of games.
For instance, this year the NHL disciplinary committee decided to suspend Raffi Torres for 25 games due to a late hit to the head in a playoff game. Other hits to the head had occurred throughout the playoff, but Torres was suspended for the longest amount of time by far. In a video, Shanahan explained the lead up to the hit, how it could have been avoided, and the fact that Torres was a repeat offender. All of that put together led to the 25 games.
The NHL’s system has been far from perfect. Players, fans, and coaches still complain about the length of suspensions and some teams openly lobby for other players to get suspended. Still, at least the transparency is there. Complaints will always come in regards to a subjective judgment, because it’s just that: one person’s view of the act. But at least in the NHL it’s explained. It’s out there in the open for all to see and then make a decision. The NHL isn’t hiding their justifications, and neither should MLS.
Simply having the league office produce a video with an explanation regarding the suspension would go a long way toward helping the disciplinary committee gain credibility. Most people think the committee has been a good thing and has helped the league play more of an attacking style, but some transparency would help players, coaches, and fans feel better about the entire process.
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