Soccer by the Rules – Do Soccer Rules Result in More Disqualifications?

by: Joe Manjone, Ed.D

Athletic and State Association Administrators often complain that high school soccer has more disqualifications and there are more problems with misconduct in soccer than any other sport.  The administrators believe the high frequency of disqualifications is due to:  the large amount of illegal contact and misconduct tolerated in professional games viewed by high school athletes and officials who then emulate the professional sport; the inability for one official to properly control, cover and see the illegal contact misconduct that occurs on a soccer field; and/or officials not calling games as dictated by the high school rules. All three of these allow play to continue to the point where disqualifications are necessary for the official to gain control.

 These complaints are often met with the response that illegal contact and misconduct in soccer are not worse than other sports; it is just that the rules of soccer facilitate disqualification more readily and more frequently than do the rules of other sports.

This article will attempt to compare the rules of soccer with basketball, which is the most popular boys’ and girls’ high school sport and, which, in most states has far less disqualifications of athletes than soccer. The rules pertaining to fouls, penalties, misconduct and disqualifications of the basketball will be compared with the similar boys and girls soccer rules. This will be done in an attempt to determine if the rules rather than an abundance of misconduct or other factors are responsible for high school having a high frequency of disqualifications.

Soccer has eleven players and uses the diagonal system of control with the referee with a whistle on the field and two assistant referees with flags standing off the field on the sides. The recommended size of a high school soccer field is 110 yds. by 65 yds.

Soccer fouls are infractions for which a free kick is awarded. The free kick that is awarded may be indirect or direct depending on the type of foul. A player who persistently commits fouls can be cautioned (given a yellow card).

Misconduct in soccer is an action by a player that results in a yellow or red card being issued. In addition to persistent infringement of the rules, a yellow card (caution) is given for unsporting conduct, entering or leaving the field of play without permission, objecting to a decision, incidental use of vulgar language, and use of tobacco products.  A cautioned player must leave the game but may reenter at the next substitution opportunity.

A red card (disqualification) is given to a player for a second caution, violent conduct, taunting, committing serious foul play, spitting at an opponent, using insulting or offensive language or gesture, and leaving the team area to participate in a fight.  A player who gets a red card is disqualified for the remainder of the game and in many states may receive additional penalties.  No substitutions are permitted for a disqualified player.  As we are aware, a soccer team consists of eleven players.

Basketball has five-player teams and uses a three referee system of control with all three referees on the court and having whistles. The recommended size of a high school basketball court is 84 feet by 50 feet.

On type of basketball  foul is a personal foul that results in free throws being awarded or the ball given out of bounds to the opponents.  After 5 fouls the player is disqualified, but a substitute may take the place of the disqualified player.  Players who foul out of games, especially who persistently foul out of games may face additional penalties in some states.

A technical foul is a noncontact basketball foul by a player or an intentional or flagrant foul while the ball is dead. An example of a noncontact technical foul would be unfair, unethical, or dishonorable conduct not in accordance with fair play. If a player receives two non-flagrant technical fouls, he/she are ejected/disqualified for the remainder of the game and also may face other post game penalties. A disqualified player may be replaced.

A flagrant foul may be a personal or technical foul of a violent or savage nature, or a technical noncontact foul which displays unacceptable conduct. It may or may not be intentional.  If personal, it involves, but is not limited to violent conduct such as striking, kicking and kneeing.  If technical, it involves dead ball contact or noncontact at any time which is extreme or persistent, vulgar or abusive conduct.  Fighting is a flagrant act. The penalty for a flagrant foul is disqualification and other penalties that the state association may prescribe. A disqualified player may be replaced.

The rules concerning fouls, misconduct and penalties in basketball and soccer are somewhat similar.  The penalty for a basketball foul is the ball out-of-bounds and/or free throws being awarded to the offended team. The penalty for a soccer foul is a direct or indirect free kick.  Technical fouls in basketball are similar to cautions in basketball because they primarily involve non-contact misconduct.  Also, getting two of each of these in a game, either basketball or soccer, results in disqualification. Flagrant basketball fouls and soccer red card fouls are also comparable. Both result serious acts of misconduct.  Both require immediate disqualification.

From the experience of having been both a high school soccer referee and high school basketball referee for more than 50 years, and from the above comparison that shows basketball and soccer rules to be comparable, I must agree with the athletic administrators on this one.  As officials we must remember that this is a high school game and that safety and education are of utmost importance and not permit illegal contact or misconduct to occur.  We must also know and enforce high school rules as they are established for the high school game, and not call the high school game as we would a USSF or College game which is governed by other rules.  Finally, we should consider adopting a three whistle system to provide for more and complete coverage of the game.

I know that going to a three whistle system is not easy, but in the long run it pays off.  I experienced three frustrating years when changing from the two-whistle to the three-whistle system in basketball in the early 90’s.  Now I don’t like to work  the two whistle system because I know that there are areas of weak coverage, especially on a fast break. Training is the key, and much training is needed to make the transition to three whistles.

If you would like to suggest a high school soccer rules change or if you have any questions about this article or any NISOA high school soccer article, please e-mail me at [email protected]