Forfeit vs Terminate

Published on January 30, 2017


By: John Van de Vaarst – National Clinician

The NFHS Rules Book provides specific definitions for forfeit and terminate. Forfeit is defined as “the loss of a game because of termination under Rule 3-1-2 or other reason as determined by the proper authority.”   Terminate is “a term which indicates that a game has been ended by the referee for action of the participants or spectators . . . The Status of the game ….. shall be determined by proper authority.”

The head referee has the power to terminate the game for specific reasons. Specific examples are included in Rule 7. If spectators provide undue interference during the game the head referee has the power to terminate the game. The head referee should work with the home coach and, if possible, the school’s administration to eliminate the spectator interference. Approaching the coach or school administrator in a professional manner and requesting that the spectators be reminded of the need for good sportsmanship is one approach. If there is one specific spectator that is creating a problem, the head referee may request the coach or school administrator to have the spectator removed from the confines of the field. Again, this must be done in a highly professional manner with specific information being provided to the coach or administrator so that the reasons for the request are clear. This should be done after the clock is stopped so sufficient time can be used to explain the problem thoroughly. It is imperative that the head referee remains calm and not lose his/her composure during this time. Also, if it is a specific individual causing the problem, the referee should never get into a confrontation or threaten the individual in anyway.

Another reason for termination occurs when a team refuses to play after being instructed to do so by the referee. This could occur after a controversial decision by the referee and the coach removes his/her team from the field in protest of the call. The head referee must go to the coach and instruct him/her to have the team return to the field and continue play. The head referee should give the coach a specific amount of time to adhere to the instruction. This should be a sufficient amount to allow the coach to consider the options and make a decision. For example, the referee may allow the coach one minute to have the team return to play. If the coach does not have the players ready to play within the amount of time provided the head referee has the power to terminate the game.

The aforementioned examples provide reasons for a game to be terminated. If these occur the head referee must complete a written report and submit it to the appropriate officials in a timely manner. This report must state the facts and specifics of the incident and prepared in a clear and concise manner. It must only contain facts and not opinion or recommendations. Again, it is critical that the head referee remains professional and the report is 100% accurate. Once the report is submitted the governing body will render an appropriate decision. it is important to note that the report is between the referee and the governing body. The referee should not openly discuss the incident, the individuals involved, etc. A misstatement at any time can have an adverse impact on any final decisions made by the governing body.

Included in Rule 3 is a the ability for the head referee to forfeit a game. “After the game is started, it may not be continued with fewer than seven players on either team.” If this occurs the game shall be terminated and a forfeit is declared. The head referee has the ability to use judgment before the termination and forfeiture. If a player had to leave the field for a minor equipment problem (i.e. replace a shin guard) the referee can allow the problem be corrected and the player return to the field of play. Another example is a minor injury but the coach or trainer was beckoned on to the field. The player must leave which reduces the number of teammates to less than seven. The referee can wait a short amount of time for the injured player to return. Another example, if a player is bleeding or has blood on the uniform. The referee may temporarily suspend the game and allow a coach or trainer to assist in stopping the bleeding or the player time to change the uniform. Once the problem is corrected the game may be continued. If a game is forfeited for less than seven eligible players the head referee must submit a written report to the appropriate governing authority.

In summary, in most instances the referee terminates the game, submits a report, and the governing body determines if the game is forfeited. The only time a referee forfeits a game occurs when one team has less than seven players. The head referee must use the correct terms when advising the coaches as to why the game is being stopped.

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