About Game Protests

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA

About the Rule

In general, you all know that by tradition the game authorities in soccer have normally denied all game protests. It was felt that the main duty of the Referee to enforce the game rules included the fact that the Referee’s decision on all points of fact was final as far so the game result. With the college rules, it is still the same when the decision concerns referee discretionary decisions.

However, NCAA Men’s and Women’s Soccer Rules specify that if a protest concerns a misapplication of a rule of conduct by the Referee, the protest it is to be decided by the NCAA Soccer Secretary-Rules Editor.

The NCAA also specifies that protests shall not be received or considered if they are based solely on a decision involving the accuracy of the Referee’s judgment. This still preserves the Referee’s duty to make a final decision on points of fact. In this case, it refers to the many discretionary decisions made by the Referee throughout the game. Examples of these discretionary decisions certainly include, but are not limited to: (a) an act by a player which merits a penalty as a violation, or a caution, or an ejection; (b) penalizing a team for an offside; (c) determining that an item of player equipment, not specifically covered by the appropriate rule, is dangerous and not allowed.

A special procedure is required for a case when the protest involves a possible Scorekeeper error. Here, the Referee and the protesting Coach are required to make an immediate determination based on all information available at the game site. The protest is not to be resolved on a delayed basis by the NCAA Secretary-Rules Editor.

A final provision reads: all rulings by the Secretary-Rules Editor are final and there shall be no right of appeal.

Understanding this rule is important because of the impact of a game-determining protest to the schools involved.

Applying the Rule

First, you must make sure you know and apply all college soccer rules correctly. A successful game protest could well cause serious problems in rescheduling games, and involve significant cost to the schools. This puts the onus squarely on the Referee for correct enforcement of the rules.

The last things any of us want to see are such protests as: ”the Referee used incorrect overtime procedures,” or “the Referee issued a caution for serious foul play,” or “the Referee issued an ejection for simulating a foul,” or any other such error involving a rule of conduct.

As you make your many decisions during each game, you can still expect teams not liking some of the decisions you make on discretionary judgment calls. We understand that these will happen. However, there should be no excuse for you not knowing and applying the specific rules as written which do not involve discretionary judgments.

One way to help avoid such problems from occurring is to get yourself back to the rule book before each season begins. Master the rules as you are supposed to. You are the rules authority for each game you officiate. To fill that role, you need to become thoroughly competent with their provisions.

Other Protest Procedures

In all cases of protest, it is the NCAA Secretary Rules Editor who determines the status of the game. If the protest is found to be valid, and the result of the game changed, the Secretary Rules Editor’s decision – which shall be final – is reported to the respective teams and/or Governing Sports Authority.

Protests must be filed within 72 hours. Contact information for the NCAA Secretary-Rules Editor is clearly listed in the rule book.

Here is an instance where a rule relates very strongly to the Referee who must carry out post-game duties completely and promptly.

Whenever you become aware that a game you have officiated is to be protested, you must prepare and submit a complete written report of the game and whatever incident or issue is involved in the protest. Your written report must be completed and submitted in a timely manner, so that the decision-making authority has all of the necessary information upon which to base a decision.

There should never be a need for NCAA Secretary-Rules Editor, who considers and rules upon protests, to have to ask for a report to be submitted. All protests and reports relevant to the protest are to be submitted directly to the NCAA Secretary Rules-Editor.


You are responsible for reporting protests, behavioral problems, serious injury incidents, and other unusual game-related problems. These follow-ups are most important to every game you referee. As one reminder, you are aware that forms are available for you to use in reporting ejections, and to report a fighting incident, and should be sent to the addressee indicated.

In the case of a game protest, make sure you know and follow your part in the process. Your timely report after the game ends is critical to the process and the schools involved.