You probably haven’t heard much about this issue – it’s kind of flown under the radar. Well, other than being talked about by just about every lacrosse writer and fan (and many players) on social media. Of course I’m talking about Callum Crawford’s suspension.
In case you missed it, Black Wolves forward and potential MVP candidate Crawford was given a major penalty for a high hit on Toronto’s Brad Kri back on February 24. The week after the game, the penalty was upgraded to a match penalty by the league, which gives Crawford an automatic one-game suspension. He appealed, allowing him to play in New England’s next game against Colorado (in which he scored four goals and added seven assists), but the match penalty was upheld the week after that, and he sat out last weekend’s game.
Rule 41.4 in the NLL rule book is called “Repeat Offender” and states: “Any player who is assessed a second match penalty, a second Dangerous Contact to the Head penalty (Rule 77), or a combination thereof within a two year period shall be assessed an additional five (5) game suspension.“
Very clear and unambiguous. This matters because in January of 2018, Crawford was given a match penalty for a similar hit on a Roughnecks player. That’s two match penalties within two years, so Crawford gets an automatic five games, right? Not this time. The same arbitrator who was brought in to decide on the match penalty announced that he was not ruling on the extra five games until later, though nobody could figure out why. Then on Friday, the answer came down: Crawford will sit out one game rather than five.
The PLPA released a statement from the arbitrator on why, but the statement is puzzling. The arbitrator, Andrew Brandt, mentions a similar situation two years ago when Calgary’s Greg Harnett received his second match penalty in two years, and was given a five game suspension by that arbitrator, a Mr. McGuire. Brandt says “Mr. McGuire correctly concluded that the league had no other choice than to impose an additional five game penalty. However as the rule was unilaterally adopted by the league and not a part of the CBA, it was not binding on an arbitration officer.“
Why would rules in the rule book not be binding on an arbitration officer? I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that by agreeing to play games (more than half the season so far) with this rule book, the PLPA has implicitly agreed to all of the rules in the rule book. This is not a rule that was added mid-season without the PLPA’s knowledge or consent. If there are rules in there that they don’t agree with, that should have been ironed out long before the season started. And yes, I do remember that they were busy trying to make sure there was a CBA so that the season could happen, but I have not heard any complaints from the PLPA since then (before this incident) that this rule was unfair and should be changed.
Mr. Brandt also states “And in his testimony for the league, Mr. Lemon [Brian Lemon, NLL VP] explained how he did not believe the foul should result in a two-game penalty, one reserved for more severe infractions.” I agree, that one hit by itself does not deserve a multiple-game suspension. But the five game suspension is not for that one hit, it’s for the fact that there were two such hits within two years. A subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless.
He continues: “The decision to lessen Mr. Crawford’s additional five-game suspension in no way diminishes the league mission to eliminate reckless and endangering play, nor does it undermine the league’s authority.” In my humble opinion, wrong and wrong. The rule says that receiving two match penalties within two years will get you a suspension. It was written that way intentionally, even clarified this past off-season, to say that this behaviour will not be tolerated regardless of who the player is. The arbitrator’s decision says that this behaviour may or may not get you a suspension and thus it may or may not be tolerated, depending on… what? It’s not clear what. How long you’ve been in the league? How many points you have?
It also says that some of the rules in the rule book don’t hold if someone else decides they shouldn’t. I wonder what other rules are not in the CBA and are thus of questionable value?
The PLPA did everything they could to stand up for Callum Crawford. That’s their job, to represent the players, and I get that they did not explicitly make this decision. But who stood up for Brad Kri? Who’s out there trying to make sure that these kinds of hits don’t happen again?
I love watching Callum Crawford play lacrosse. He’s fast, skilled, dynamic, and exciting. I don’t think he’s a dirty player. But he made two bad decisions resulting in two dangerous hits. Those hits were close enough together in time to trigger rule 41.4, so he should be sitting out for five games. Yes he’s a veteran and yes he’s having an MVP-type season, but suspending him anyway would have sent the message that the NLL will not accept these types of hits regardless of who you are. Now, the message they are sending is that if you are a veteran or a great player, you can get away with stuff that other players can’t.
Not only does this make the league look unprofessional, it’s a very dangerous precedent to set.