About Advantage

“Reminders About Advantage”, January 2012

BY: Bob Sumpter, NISOA

(Editorial Note: The monthly “NISOA Referee Nuts and Bolts” column is written primarily for the college and high school Referee. However, any soccer Referee who wishes to improve personal performance may also find that this series is helpful. All “NISOA Nuts and Bolts” articles address those BASIC techniques, procedures, practice alternatives, and skills that are sometimes forgotten or overlooked while going through the experiences of soccer refereeing. The short discussions and accompanying practical tips stress important advice for competent performance.


The use of advantage is meant to help a team against whom foul play has occurred, and who still gains a benefit in spite of the foul by allowing play to continue without stopping play at that time to punish the infringement.

As originally written, advantage, once given, could not be nullified if the advantage did not materialize. In recent years, the rule has been revised to allow the Referee to stop play and penalize the foul if the advantage to the offended team did not materialize. This change has made the rule easier to apply in instances where a game becomes more exciting and enjoyable when an advantage is allowed.

The Rule

NCAA Rule 5-4-3 states: “The Referee shall, however, refrain from penalizing in cases where he or she is satisfied that by doing so an advantage would be given to the offending team. When the Referee observes a foul that is not to be penalized, the Referee shall call out the words “play on” and signal accordingly to indicate that the foul has been acknowledged. However, if the advantage does not materialize, the Referee shall then blow the whistle and award a free kick.”


A few, brief reminders should be kept in mind so that the game will be benefit from your use of advantage.

1. Understand that once you allow advantage you are essentially allowing unfair play to occur without penalizing it at that moment. It is important for participants to know that you are not ignoring the foul play involved. Call out and signal clearly for all to see and hear. This will help avoid offended players feel that the foul play was not recognized.

2. Most times when a foul occurs, some slight hesitation is needed to see whether or not an advantage to the offended team is likely to result. It is OK to hesitate on the award, long enough to see if an advantage is likely. However, whatever hesitation is needed to make the judgment and call should not be prolonged. While it is OK to call the foul and negate the advantage after a few seconds, longer delay may well cause problems with players who expect more rapid punishment.

3. The severity of the foul is important to consider. Naturally, do not allow dangerous, injurious, or excessively rough play just to give an advantage. Player safety is more important.

4. Once given, do not stop play to punish until all possibility of advantage is not realized. Then blow the whistle and award the appropriate punishment and restart.

5. Advantage is not only awarded when a possible goal attack or score is the reason. In higher levels of competition, gaining possession anywhere on the field may be enough reason; judge this by how play has proceeded up to this point of the game. If one team is more skillful, a possession turnover anywhere on the field may well be enough.

6. As the rule specifies, once the advantage is given, you are to stop play and punish the original foul if the advantage was not realized, and award the the appropriate restart.  However, if the foul constituted misconduct, then after stopping play, you should issue the caution or ejection as appropriate, and then the proper restart.

7. Remember that your responsibility for player safety requires you to keep player conduct under control. Never allow misconduct to become a license for foul play by not penalizing an act of misconduct whether or not the advantage was realized.

8. Be aware of a game where two teams are unevenly matched in terms of skills. The weaker team may well become frustrated to the point where individual players are willing to risk misconduct to “even up the game”. In this case, it may help game control by careful, limited use of advantage.

9. Also, the same applies to a stronger, more skillful team that may become overconfident and by its actions goad the weaker opponents into misconduct. Again, a careful, limited use of advantage should be considered.

10. Understand that once you allow advantage you are allowing unfair play to occur without penalizing at that moment. If that happens too often in a game the possibility of negative reactions by offended players becomes a concern. Beware of the situation when a player is fouled several times in a game where advantage has been allowed.  That offended player might be more likely to retaliate against an opponent or to dissent to the Referee Team after being fouled in advantage situations, even though the fouls were dealt with after being committed.


  • Advantage is available to be used as a game control and enhancement technique by the Referee.
  • Not all Referees are skilled at handling advantage, but all Referees can improve their recognition and handling of this Referee game control technique. Set that as a major goal for your own performance.
  • The use of advantage allows unfair play to occur with punishment to follow after a delay. If the advantage does not materialize, then stop play promptly and punish the infringement without fail.
  • Do not over-use advantage. Apply it when a definite gain can be realized by the offended team. The more skilled teams will probably expect it to be used more often.  Think about this when planning your game.
  • Player safety is most important. Do NOT allow advantage to become a license for unfair or serious foul play. Better to punish the foul or misconduct.