Jump to content

- - - - -

Don't Fight The Laws #6: Let's get pedantic! (Or not)

Welcome to this week's edition of Don't Fight The Laws, in which I combine my years of being a referee with my years of being a smartass to provide my answers to your questions about the Laws of the Game, controversial decisions and other odds and ends relating to referees and what they do.

Got a question? Send it over to canadiansoccerguys@gmail.com. But for this week, we have the following...

Really pedantic question that makes me crazy - why are keepers often allowed to step just a little bit outside the box when making a drop kick. [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]It's like the logic in hockey that says it's not icing if you dump the puck in from 6-inches behind the red line.

Shouldn't hands outside the box be called really strict since the rule speaks to the very essence of the game? -- Duane Rollins

For a good explanation as to why Rollins and I frequently don't see eye-to-eye on subjects, look no further than his usage of the word "pedantic". While he regularly uses the word in a pejorative sense, I relish the opportunity to get pedantic about, well, just about anything. So to start off here, a clarification: If the keeper steps outside of the penalty area on a drop kick, but has already released the ball from their hands prior to it breaking the "invisible plane" of the penalty area, then no foul has been committed.

Now, I was a keeper myself, so while I'd like to say the 'keepers should be given the benefit of the doubt in this situation, Duane is right in that the rule about where players can and can't handle the ball speaks to the very essence of the game. So, as soon as the whole of the ball (on the field or in the air) is entirely outside of the penalty area, any player should be penalized for deliberately handling it -- even if it's the keeper who's in the process of releasing it from his/her hands for a drop kick.

Referee positioning is often an issue, however. It's nearly impossible for the centre ref to judge whether the keeper's released the ball by the time it breaks the invisible plane. It's technically the assistant referee's job to monitor this (and flag if an infringement occurs), but more often than not, the AR either isn't in the correct position to properly evaluate it, or they, as I said, give the keeper the benefit of the doubt.

But Duane, let's be real here. You're not asking this question because you're concerned about the spiritual essence of the game. My guess is that you're still pissed off about some USIL game when you lost track of where you were, accidentally grabbed the ball outside the area and the ref -- about whose physical appearance and sexual proclivities you'd surely already make mention -- had the nerve (the nerve!) to actually call it. Then Gary Jambo thumped one past you on the ensuing free kick.

But now, to hide that damning reality, you're pretending to be a champion of the strict, pedantic enforcement of the Laws as written. I'm not falling for that trick. I'm a ref, Rollins. I perceive things. I can see all. (Well, except for whether the keeper has handled outside the area... then it's a bit of a crapshoot).

What's the formal process on opening kickoffs? There always seems to be one player who nudges the ball to another player who then passes back to a third player on their team. How much of this process is merely semantics and how much is, by-the-book, proper kickoff procedure? For instance, can the first player take a shot on net without nudging the ball to a second player? -- mulliganl

While 99 times out of 100, a kickoff will entail the short tap-ahead, followed by a pass back to another player, every once in a while, you'll see something like this:


That's a legit goal, as the Laws state that a goal may be scored on a kickoff. However, this would be an idiotic way for most teams to take kickoffs, as the chances of scoring off of one are incredibly low (unless the opposing keeper is named Rollins). The Laws, though, state that "the ball is in play when it is kicked and moves forward". In other words, you can't pass the ball backwards on the first touch.

Hence, we have the nearly-automatic procedure of one player tapping it half an inch ahead to a teammate, whereupon the teammate passes it backwards. It conforms to the Laws, and it allows the team to keep possession. I don't know why FIFA bothers with the rule about putting the kickoff forward, since it's circumvented nearly 100% of the time anyway. Weird for FIFA to be unattentive to the contemporary realities of the on-field game, I know.

(On a side note, I truly wish someone would enlighten house league youth players [more specifically, parents and coaches] about this rule, so that the kids would stop being praised and rewarded for counter-productively hoofing the kickoff to the opposing defenders.)

Oh, and if you've ever wondered, the centre circle's sole purpose is to give opposing players a visual cue as to how close they can be on a kickoff (like any other set piece, opposing players need to provide 10 yards of distance between themselves and the ball until it's kicked).

What is the proper procedure on a throw-in? I know it has to go directly over your head and both feet have to be on the ground. But is there a rule stating where your feet have to be placed; both behind the line, can be just on the line, can have one over the line. -- zooko62000

Oh baby, it's Pedantic City! Law 15, take us away:
"At the moment of delivering the ball, the thrower:
• faces the field of play
• has part of each foot either on the touch line or on the ground outside the touch line
• holds the ball with both hands
• delivers the ball from behind and over his head
• delivers the ball from the point where it left the field of play"

So, as long as you don't have either of your feet completely over the touch line, you're golden.

But how about this?


While most can agree that demolishing a 12-year-old's face with the ball ain't really kosher, the so-called "flip throw", demonstrated above, has been a source of confusion for some people. Let's try to clear it up.

The advice given to American refs states that "The acrobatic or “flip” throw-in is not by itself an infringement so long as it is performed in a manner which meets the requirements of Law 15." Refs Chuck Fleischer and Michelle Maloney have also categorically denied any ban on the flip throw, so long as the throw itself is taken in line with correct procedure.

The kid above... facing the field, check. Feet behind the touch line, check. Both hands, check. Behind and over his head, check. Proper placement, check. But can he really wallop his opponent in the face like that? Depends on the referee's discretion: "If a player, while correctly taking a throw-in, intentionally throws the ball at an opponent in order to play the ball again but neither in a careless nor a reckless manner nor using excessive force, the referee must allow play to continue."

So while I doubt that the kid there really had any malice, generally speaking, attempting to decapitate your opponents is a no-no.

That's it for this week. Send me an email at canadiansoccerguys@gmail.com, and your query may turn up in the next edition of Don't Fight The Laws.