Use of Advantage

By:  Bryan Auten, NISOA Clinician

From time to time game situations arise where the referee may choose to refrain from immediately penalizing an offending team for an offense.  This decision is made when the referee believes that by stopping play immediately an advantage for the offending team will be created.  This can cause a considerable amount of debate; typically regarding the practical interpretation and application of the advantage clause.  Advantage, by definition is any state, circumstance, opportunity, or means especially favorable to success, interest, or any desired end.

It is important to note, that the concept of advantage should not necessarily be utilized only because the offended team maintains possession of the ball.  Possession and advantage need to be clearly differentiated.  Often times when a foul is considered to be trifling it is not called to encourage game flow under the concept of advantage.  While game flow is important, it is equally important to properly enforce the rules of the game and maintain fair play.  Fair play may become increasingly difficult to maintain if advantage is not properly utilized throughout the match.

There are general principles and basic elements involving advantage that should be considered so that the decision to apply advantage becomes straightforward:

  • Advantage is a TEAM concept and therefore the referee must be aware of both the fouled player’s ability to continue his or her attack, and also of the ability of any of the player’s teammates to continue the attack themselves.
  • The advantage gained by an offended team when the referee decides not to stop play can be enjoyed by the player who was fouled as well as by any teammate of that player.
  • The referee makes a decision to apply advantage; therefore, this is when advantage has been applied.  The act of signaling that decision by the upward swing of the arms and declaring “Play on” or “Advantage” is only the announcement of that decision.
  • The decision to apply advantage and the signal for advantage are two separate events.  The signal itself may often be delayed by a few seconds while the referee evaluates the advantage situation to determine if it will continue.
  • Often, a sequence of plays can occur so quickly in a match involving skilled players that the conditions for an advantage decision may pass before it is possible to signal the decision. Nevertheless, advantage has been applied if that was the referee’s decision.
  • Ideally, the referee should delay stopping play for the original foul until he is able to see more concretely what the offended team will be able to do with the ball.
  • The referee is expected to stop play for the original foul as soon as it becomes evident that the advantage has not developed or continued as originally thought.

It is at this moment when a considerable amount of debate regarding the interpretation and application of the advantage call may occur.  Multiple factors come in to play at this juncture, including the type of foul that was committed and the seriousness of the offense.  If the referee has deemed the behavior to be worthy of an ejection or caution, there are additional principles to consider:

  • If the original foul involved serious foul play or violent behavior, the referee is should not apply advantage unless there is an immediate chance of scoring a goal.
  • The time during which the referee looks for advantage to continue becomes defined by the probability of scoring a goal directly following the foul or from the subsequent play.
  • If the player committing the foul should be ejected, the referee shall eject the player by showing the red card once play is suspended.  The play must be restarted correctly (based on the foul and its location).
  • In the event that an offense would be considered denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, if an advantage develops and the attacking team is able to score a goal, the defender who committed the foul may not be ejected.  Since a goal was not prevented and the team’s goal scoring opportunity was not interfered with successfully, this offense no longer meets the criteria for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity.  The offense would be more appropriately categorized as unsporting behavior (tactical foul) warranting a caution and the showing of the yellow card.

There are instances in which the referee may stop play prior to realizing the opportunity for an advantage.  This can become very frustrating for the referee, the players, and the coaches.  It is important to understand that once play has been stopped, the advantage clause is no longer applicable.  For example, on a foul that denies an obvious goal scoring opportunity:  If just after the whistle is blown, a teammate of the offended player was to come streaking in from behind the play and strike the ball into the goal, the goal would be canceled.  The goal, unfortunately, would not be valid because the referee decided the advantage had not continued and stopped play before the ball was struck.  In this case, the ball had entered the goal after the whistle had sounded, and the goal could not be counted.  Under these circumstances, the referee had no choice but to return to the original decision that a goal scoring opportunity had been denied.  Therefore the offending player would be ejected for denying the goal scoring opportunity.  In the absence of the whistle stopping play, and if the ball entered the goal, the advantage would clearly have continued and the goal would be counted.  If the referee had allowed the advantage to develop, the offended team would have scored and, prior to the kick-off, the offending player should be cautioned.

Again, the proper understanding, interpretation, and application of advantage can be wonderful asset to the referee.