Illegal equipment: Do the crime, do the time

It’s not unusual for a player to be given a penalty that fans of his team disagree with. In fact, it’s unusual if they don’t. But this past weekend, Shawn Evans was given a penalty that a lot of people disagreed with, and not just Bandits fans. That’s because it had nothing to do with anything that happened on the floor.

Evans is one of the growing number of pasty-legged NLL players who have taken a liking to wearing leggings during games. In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Swarm/Bandits game in Buffalo, Evans was given an “Illegal Equipment” penalty for wearing leggings with the Nike swoosh on them. The NLL is sponsored by New Balance, and there is a rule in the rule book that specifically talks about using clothing and equipment from someone other than the league sponsor:

26.3 SPONSORSHIP EQUIPMENT REQUIREMENTS – Only
NLL sponsored equipment shall be worn unless prior
approval by the League and only authorized Official NLL
Suppliers’ logos/marks must be displayed on the
player’s uniform and/or equipment, which also includes
the shaft and head of the stick.

Any player or goalie in violation with this rule shall be
assessed a delay of game penalty immediately. Should
the player or goalie be unable to comply immediately
after the signal of the penalty, the in-home shall serve
the penalty. The player who was assessed the penalty
shall not be permitted on the floor until the penalty
expires.

Any player who has been found to have marked up,
blocked, or misrepresented any logos or marks shall be
reported to the League office and is subject to a fine.

It’s a little weird that he was given an “Illegal Equipment” penalty rather than the “delay of game” penalty stipulated in the rule, but whatever.

There was a lot of talk on twitter about this being a “bush league” move. There were two main problems that people had with this:

  1. Nothing that happened on the floor was affected so Evans didn’t deserve a penalty at all, and
  2. Such a violation shouldn’t result in a penalty anyway, i.e. something that affects game play – a fine would be more appropriate.

I also saw people using the hashtag “#GrowTheGame”, though I’m not sure why.

#1 is nonsensical. The coach swearing at the ref doesn’t affect the play on the floor either, but it’s a penalty nonetheless. Same with a player given a penalty who slams the door of the penalty box or bangs his stick against the glass in anger – both will get you an additional two minutes for Unsportsmanlike Conduct.

The remainder of this article covers #2. In my opinion, the penalty was deserved and entirely appropriate.

Do the crime, do the time

The penalty was deserved for two reasons. The first is simple: Evans broke the rule so he deserves the penalty. Every player in the league knows about this rule (and if they don’t, well that’s too damn bad because it’s in the rule book). Evans knew full well what he was doing. He’s probably gotten away with it in previous games, so he gambled that he’d get away with it again, and this time he lost. That’s not a negative judgement of Evans; all players do that all the time. A large percentage of the penalties called are for things that other players have done in the same game and gotten away with.

Shawn Evans (Photo: James P. McCoy, Buffalo News)

This is not some obscure rule that nobody remembers; others have been given this penalty in the past. You may remember Colin Doyle wearing Nike shoes during a game a couple of years ago. The opposing coach pointed this out to the ref late in the fourth quarter (I’m sure the timing was deliberate – even if he knew about it the entire game, what coach wouldn’t wait until then?) and after his penalty, Doyle had to go back to the locker room and borrow someone else’s shoes (which were a couple of sizes too small). He assisted on the winning OT goal so it worked out for Doyle, even if he had sore feet.

Follow the money

Secondly, it makes sense that the league wants to prevent players from wearing non-sponsored equipment. Full disclosure: I know nothing of the deal between New Balance and the NLL so this paragraph is all speculation but it’s logical. New Balance is providing all 180+ NLL players with equipment and clothing, and there may be money provided to the league as well. Even the hosts of NLL ReLax have worn New Balance hoodies during the show, and I doubt that’s coincidence. In exchange, the deal likely states that the league will air their ads during games, mention their sponsorship here and there, and make sure that players don’t wear clothing or use equipment featuring logos of New Balance competitors. (Again, I don’t know the details of the deal but if New Balance doesn’t have that kind of clause included, they’re nuts.) The rule does say that league approval for exceptions is possible, likely for those players who have personal endorsement contracts with other companies.

The last thing the league wants is for New Balance to say “players are wearing stuff with Nike or Under Armour logos and you’re not doing anything about it, so we’re out” and pull their sponsorship. If you’re worried about growing the game, that’s exactly what the league is doing by making sure their sponsors are happy.

Update: Under Armour is also a sponsor of the NLL.

Make it count

Should a violation of this rule affect the games themselves, or should the league simply fine players who wear the wrong company’s equipment? Let’s say they decide that directly affecting the outcomes of games is not appropriate, so no penalties or suspensions or anything like that will occur. Players will be fined for violations of the rule, and maybe fines will increase for multiple violations.

In that case, what’s to stop Nike from contacting Shawn Evans and saying “wear our stuff, and we’ll pay whatever fines you get”? Evans can wear what he wants to wear, so he’s happy. Nike gets publicity and their logo is visible on one of the league’s best players, and it probably costs them less than sponsoring the entire league (and it kind of looks bad for New Balance), so they’re happy. The NLL fines Evans over and over and the fines get paid, but guess who’s not happy? New Balance is not happy. Again, the league is not preventing Evans from wearing their competitor’s clothing. But if he knows he won’t get a penalty or a suspension, what incentive does Evans have to comply with the rule? And what if a dozen or more players make the same deal with Nike?

Perhaps the league could increase the fines until the other companies would refuse to pay them. I saw a tweet suggesting fining players $10,000. I guess if a rookie player making $8,000 a year could get fined $10,000 for wearing the wrong equipment, he’s going to make damn sure he doesn’t. But if he makes a mistake, he’s not going to just say “Oops, my bad”, pay a fine of more than a year’s salary, and move on. He’ll retire to avoid the fine and we’ll never see him again. Should this kind of mistake cost a lacrosse player his career? That amount seems unreasonable considering what the players make. Still, a huge company like Nike might look at that as a drop in the bucket anyway.

Even if Nike doesn’t want to pay the fines, some of the owners might. If Cody Jamieson wants to wear Nike and he gets fined, Curt Styres may decide that keeping Cody happy is worth a few bucks – it’s the cost of doing business. (Shawn Evans is a bad example here because the Pegula family haven’t shown nearly the interest in the Bandits as other NLL owners do in their teams.)

It’s in the NLL’s best interest to make sure the players abide by this rule. To do that, they have to make a point of enforcing it and they have to make the punishment matter to the players. Affecting the actual game itself is the best way to do that. A player may be willing to pay the fines himself, but he’s less likely to be willing to negatively affect his team.

By enforcing this rule and making it count, the NLL is making sure their players honour the contract they have with their sponsors. That way the sponsor wants to stay with them, and future sponsors will also know that the league doesn’t take this lightly.

If a company is willing to give your league money, pissing them off is not the way to grow the game.

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2 thoughts on “Illegal equipment: Do the crime, do the time

  1. Just a thought….

    The penalty on the floor punishes the player, but also penalizes his teammates and the fans.

    Why not take a page out of other leagues and fine the player instead?

    Like

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