NMAA New Bylaws Levy Sanctions For Bad Fan Behavior In High School Sports

High schools under the New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA) recently took a significant step towards curbing unsportsmanlike conduct in sports. Nearly 80% of the membership approved an update to Bylaw 7.7.4 that governs Crowd Control & Unsportsmanlike Conduct. But what exactly does this mean, and will the new regulations make a difference? Let’s break it down.

The Revamped Rules: A Snapshot

Starting from the 2023-2024 school year, the modified bylaw now presents the following changes:

For Team Members: Should any team participant (including coaches) engage in an “egregious act of unsportsmanlike conduct” twice or more in the same season, at the same school, and in the same activity, the team will be suspended from that activity for the rest of the season.

For Spectators: A non-team participant who exhibits unsportsmanlike behavior twice or more in the same conditions as above will result in the suspension of all spectators for that activity for the remainder of the season.

Defining Unsportsmanlike Conduct: The NMAA Handbook now defines unsportsmanlike behavior as not just a violation of specific sport rules but also as actions that don’t align with the “Compete with Class” initiative and broader educational objectives.

Consequences Extend to the Next Season: If the second violation occurs at the end of the season, penalties could spill over into the next season for that same activity.

The bylaw also lists examples of what constitutes egregious unsportsmanlike conduct. This includes fans engaging in violent acts, verbal abuse against officials, and more. For those interested in further details, here’s a link to the NMAA Handbook.

The Real Problem: Is Legislation the Answer?

While the efforts of NMAA are praiseworthy, one cannot help but wonder if merely changing bylaws will change people’s behavior. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) has already tried to discourage unruly fan behavior by imposing fines. But has it worked? Data suggests that it has not significantly reduced incidents and as a result the SEC is upping the penalties.

Digging Deeper: The Root Causes

It’s essential to examine the underlying reasons for such conduct. Is it the hyper-competitive nature of sports? Is it parents pushing their children to win at all costs? Could it be symptomatic of a more violent society at large? The reality is, many stadiums and arenas already have fan codes of conduct prominently displayed. Despite this, disruptive behavior persists. To truly effect change, we need to investigate the root causes.

Legal Complexities: The Devil Is in the Details

Moreover, the bylaw opens a can of legal worms. Questions about what counts as an “egregious act,” what happens in the case of false claims, or how this affects sponsorship deals and similar contracts are bound to arise. If such rules are to be effective, they will need to be scrutinized for every possible interpretation and loophole.

Conclusion: The Jury’s Still Out

In conclusion, NMAA’s newly revised bylaw is a significant step in attempting to manage unsportsmanlike conduct. However, the efficacy of such a rule change remains to be seen. While the bylaw is ambitious, it raises numerous questions that need to be addressed for it to be truly effective. For now, it seems the journey to civil sportsmanship is still fraught with challenges that extend beyond mere rule-setting.

In My Opinion

The new bylaw may not have gone far enough to control parental bad fan behavior in high school sports. One additional idea is to punish the player with practice and game suspension for their parent’s bad behavior. Knowing that their child will face consequences for their bad behavior is likely to be a powerful positive motivator for parents. For other ideas on controlling sports violence, see my blog entitled Sports Anti-Violence Risk Management For Amateur Sports Associations.


This article was inspired by the original work of Gil Fried and published in Sports Facilities and the Law, a free-subscription publication for industry professionals. To read more from the publication, visit Sports Facilities and the Law.

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