As the Clock Winds Down

Published on October 4, 2019


By: John Puglisi, NISOA National Clinician

The recent NISOA video installment of how one of our NISOA members, Brandon Marion managed the closing minutes of an overtime period generated several comments and talking points that merit further exploration.

In this video, Brandon expertly handles this critical match incident. Further discussion, both online and offline, explored the concepts of fairly allowing a free kick at the end of a period and referee’s responsibility regarding managing the clock.

The most important aspect of this incident is that it occurred under the NCAA Soccer Rules which provide specific guidelines for timekeeping and the use of a visible, electronic clock. Unlike many instances of match management techniques that are identical under the Laws of the Game and the NCAA Soccer rules, timekeeping is completely different and must be managed differently to comply with the NCAA Soccer Rules.

NCAA Soccer Rules timekeeping requirements are very specific. The visible, electronic clock is the official timepiece. The clock is official and final when operated properly by the timekeeper. Unlike the Laws of the Game where the referee has full discretion to decide when to end the half or match, the NCAA Soccer Rules provide the referee with little or no discretion in this area. The referee can not decide what is “fair” when it comes to matters of timekeeping under the NCAA Soccer Rules. The referee can only decide whether the timekeeping is correct or incorrect in case of malfunction.

As a referee, player safety and ensuring fair play is a continuous part of our training beginning in our first introductory class. As we review the video above, we can use our sense of fair play to evaluate the different aspects of fairness as it relates to this end of period incident.

Is it fair to caution the offender which would result in stopping the clock? As Brandon mentioned, he didn’t feel the foul rose to the level of misconduct. I agree with him. The foul did not stop a promising attack based on the number of defenders and the lack of passing options available to the attacking player. The defender did have a chance to fairly play and win the ball and did not put the offended player in a dangerous situation. Do the players use delaying tactics to prevent taking the free kick? That doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Perhaps the defender did realize that time might expire before the kick could be taken. However since the NCAA Soccer Rules don’t allow the referee much, if any discretion here regarding the clock, can the referee jump in and decide that it’s fair to allow the free kick to occur even if there are no delaying tactics on the part of the defending team? The NCAA Soccer Rules do not allow the referee to do so, in my opinion.

Remember, players will be suspended when they accumulate cautions through the season. Cautions are a big deal in college soccer. Referees should not caution unless the considerations support the decision.

Rule 5.6.1 allows the referee to suspend the game as deemed necessary. The referee can use this provision to stop the clock in this case to allow the free kick to be taken, right? This is a slippery slope. Most likely, during the course of the match, the referee has not stopped the clock for any reason other than what is required by the NCAA Soccer Rules. In some cases, when match control may be threatened, the referee may need to have an extended discussion with one or more players to help keep the action from escalating into misconduct. The referee can and should stop the clock in this case using this provision as it reduces the amount of playing time available.

Free kicks take time to set up under any circumstance. It’s part of the game. Just because there is a foul in the attacking third that occurs with less than 30 seconds left in the period does not mean that it must be taken according to the NCAA Soccer Rules, if the defending team does not employ delaying tactics.

In summary, referees need to be prepared to handle incidents like this at the end of a period or match. Would our job be easier if the referee had the official timepiece in cases like this one? Probably but we are required to enforce the NCAA Soccer Rules as written even if they may not meet our perception of fairness.

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