The Punishment Must Fit the Crime

By: Austin M. Gomez, NISOA National Assessor, Missouri

While watching a collegiate match at a nearby soccer stadium, I noticed that during the early part of this game tat the NISOA Referee had justly given a Caution for a “reckless” foul, and then a few minutes later the same player committed an even worse type of “reckless” foul against his opponent. The Referee seemingly went to his pocket but then hesitated, now realizing that this would be a second yellow card for this deserving player; and that a red card would be the end result. For whatever reason, the Referee did NOT issue the earned ejection this early in the game. Then a few minutes later this same “problem” player committed a “careless” foul, perhaps a “persistent infringement” violation. Nevertheless, at this point this collegiate game seemed to be headed for disaster. At that moment, there came to my mind a very important concept that all fair but firm Referees learn to follow, that “The Punishment Must Fit the Crime.”

Many Referees perhaps do not approach Rule 12 appropriately. Therefore, a brief, but good review may be needed about this very important “Law and Order” concept, since it is part of this most important rule: “Violations and Misconduct”, found in the “NCAA Men’s and Women’s Soccer Rules.”

A Referee can never display a disciplinary card (i.e., a yellow card for a caution, or a red card for an ejection) for a violation only. The only punishment for a violation listed in the rule is two-fold in nature: direct free kick or indirect free kick.  In other words, for a “careless”, action-type violation, the Referee is to whistle to interrupt play/flow of the game, due to many reasons, safety being an important necessary priority.

However, if a violation becomes “reckless” in nature, that act (in the opinion of the Referee, which is certainly another very important concept) has thus escalated into the realm of misconduct, wherein the proper punishment is also two-fold: a caution (yellow card), or an ejection (red card.)

Therefore, a Referee can never, never issue a card for a violation alone! But, if in his/her discretionary opinion that violation has escalated into misconduct, then more punishment must be imposed. Most often, misconduct initiates as a violation, which then climbs into the realm of the misconduct category. Thus there are two separate “crimes” committed by the “criminal” (i.e., problem player) and thus two separate punishments must be issued: first, for the violation itself by either a direct or indirect free kick, and then also for the misconduct itself by either a caution (yellow card) or an ejection (red card).

Sometimes misconduct occurs alone, without a violation. For this type of misconduct the appropriate card is displayed and an indirect free kick used to restart the game. Here the caution or ejection becomes the punishment, and the free kick used primarily to restart play, usually at the point of the infraction. If the ball is dead (i.e., not in play) at the time of the misconduct, then the restart is from the point where the appropriate restart were to have taken place. (One example involves a restart after a caution for encroachment when opponents take a free kick.) Also, for coaching and team area restriction violations, the restart is from the point where the ball was (if in play) if the game is stopped for the violation.

Therefore, as stated previously, the Referee upon whistling to stop play for a “careless”, “reckless”, or “excessive force” violation, must then apply the correct “Judgment of Punishment” on the field of play with the correct free kick (if the act was only a “careless” violation) and/or the correct card for  misconduct (if the violation was of a “reckless” or “excessive force” nature.) Remember, Justice must always be served.

Usually, violations to “dispossess” are “careless” in nature. This is opposed to acts “to intimidate” or “to stop play tactically”, and violations “to injure or harm” using “excessive force”. When these latter two acts by their nature, and in the opinion of the Referee, escalate “nasty, blatant, tactical” play into the realm of misconduct, they require added punishment, by either caution or ejection, which must be issued.

In summary, that “The Punishment Must Fit the Crime” should always be considered by the Referee as a very important principle of game and behavior control.