Underwear Error Worth a DQ?

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.1, January 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1401/bbunderwear.htm

The joke among members of the track team at Lincoln (Calif.) High School is that from now on, everyone will wear tights with little green apples printed on them. But for a few days in June, green apples were no laughing matter at Lincoln.

At a California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) sectional meet leading to the state championships, a runner on the boys’ 4 x 400 relay team was disqualified when the boxer shorts he’d tucked underneath his uniform became unfurled during a qualifying heat. The little green apples printed on the boxers violated National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and CIF rules that any undergarments protruding from under shorts or a singlet be of a uniform color without visible print other than a manufacturer’s logo.

“Yes, it’s a life lesson,” says Craig Pearce, Head Track and Field Coach at Lincoln. “But my feeling is that we’re getting carried away with rules, nit-picking little rules. You’ve got to remember: This is for the kids, not the coaches.”

Coupled with a similar May incident in San Diego involving a female runner’s earrings, the disqualification prompted the latest round of complaints about the specificity of high school uniform and jewelry rules in track and field. The target of the complaint isn’t so much the rules themselves as the penalty.

Pearce says a warning or some type of lower-level penalty ought to be allowed at the meet officials’ discretion. He says it could apply when the violation isn’t flagrant or intentional and doesn’t give a competitor an advantage. In his team’s case, he’d warned athletes about the undergarment rule, and the athlete tried to comply by rolling up his boxer shorts.

“He started off running and there was nothing to be seen, and then they just accidentally rolled down and showed about an inch,” Pearce says. “I don’t think a fashion thing like that should be a big deal. It’s not like disrespectful or offensive language written on clothes. I think the philosophy ought to change.”

Meet officials say they understand the frustration, but they have to follow the rules as written. Tom Crumpacker, Athletic Director at Dixon High School and co-meet director for CIF state meets held in Northern California, says the CIF follows rules set by the NFHS. The NFHS Track and Field Rules Committee took no action on the uniform and jewelry rule when it met this past June.

Crumpacker says the rules are purposefully written to be consistent and enforceable without a lot of room for interpretation, so people running meets focus on prevention—warning coaches to tell their athletes about uniform and jewelry rules, and conducting pre-competition inspections so athletes can make adjustments before risking disqualification. “We try to go around and thoroughly check athletes and tell them what the rules are before they step onto the competition site. We try to prevent anything from disqualifying them.”

Crumpacker admits the rules for high school track and field seem stricter than the rules at other levels and in other sports. For instance, viewers of international-level meets see world-class athletes wearing necklaces and earrings on TV, but those are forbidden in most high school track and field meets. Even Lance Armstrong-style wristbands are considered jewelry and illegal to run with, though wristwatches are now considered equipment and may be worn by runners.

If there’ s a silver lining in Lincoln High’s incident, it’s that the involved runner was a sophomore, so he may have another shot at a state medal, and Pearce vows to be even more diligent about educating his team on clothing rules. As the coach, Pearce took the blame, telling the runner he should have made sure there was no chance his underclothes would disqualify him. And, of course, the team can joke about it—now.

“I didn’t make a huge deal about it then,” says Pearce. “It’s in the rule book, so I didn’t protest it. But I think we’re losing touch with who this is for. You want to send your best athletes on and give them a chance. I do think the rules have gotten a little out of hand.”