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Question Number: 32779

Character, Attitude and Control 10/6/2018

RE: Varsity High School

Ryan D Drake of Klamath Falls, Oregon (OR) United States asks...

My question regards the ball going out of bounds and playing until you hear the whistle. These two situations both happened in a game recently.

First, I had a player cautioned for continuing to try to win the ball after it had gone over the end line and out of play. There was no whistle or indication from either the official or linesman to stop play. I have coached my players to play until an official has indicated that play is over.

Second, I had my defense players stop after the ball had clearly gone over the end line and out of play. An opposing team player then dribbled the ball back onto the field and kicked the ball into the goal. The official said that the goal was good because neither he or his linesman had blown their whistle or otherwise indicated that play was over.

This is kind of a damned if you do/ damned if you dont kind of issue. Where do I tell my players the line is drawn here? I'm leaning towards telling them to just continuing to play even if the ball is out of play. Seems risking a caution is better than risking a goal.

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

HI Ryan,
The best idea would be play to the whistle although I fail to see why you could be cautioned for doing so? Unless the ball is so OBVIOUSLY out of play the CR never thought it necessary to signal it? For example a ball goes into touch for throw in or over the goal line the CR yells & indicates red throw or a red goal kick there is no whistle per say? So for blue to continue to play it would in effect be delaying the restart. That could get you cautioned. But these should be very clear decisions a ball that is out by a sliver of grass or even a few feet unless we are looking down that line from distance downfield there is no way an official could be certain. Thus we say play to the whistle.

PLAY TO THE WHISTLE is an old adage where we remind players in case where it is not clear or in the absence of direction best to stay thinking the game is a foot. Defenders raising arms expecting offside calls that never occur. A player fouled who stops to complain & picks up the ball when the CR was considering playing advantage.

A ball that rolls along the touchline or goal line that swerves goes out then back in or is only partially or even completely out but the AR or CR are at a bad angle, screened or too far away they maybe reluctant to call it as they are NOT positive it WAS or IS out . Just look how often a long ball, where a goal is scored but not awarded, or a ball bounces out but is corralled back in because the AR or CR are not in a position to say YES it did when even a reply will show the ball well over. They make the call is real time and if they can not be sure it WAS they usually allow play to continue.

I often referee as a single official and if an attacker was to reach down and pick a ball up to award it to the defender for a goal kick or throw in as he was 1 foot into touch I likely side with it as justifiable restart. But for a defender to grab a ball near his goal line claiming it was out I am NOT likely to accept it because I can not permit players that option of removing threats or scoring opportunities EVEN if they might be correct . I have had many disputes of balls in or out that were in my opinion much different than the players opinion

AS a single official I have asked players if you are playing a ball that you think is outside into touch raise your arm to let me know. If I say, Keep going I cannot be sure it mean from my view I think it still is in KEEP playing! If I decide to accept your version I will blow the whistle, just so there is no confusion.

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Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Ryan,
I understand your frustration. Bear in mind that a whistle from the referee is only really required when the ball goes out of play if it looks like play may otherwise continue if the referee doesn't whistle. Usually there's no whistle.

And when it's close, playing to the whistle is the best advice.

As for the scenario when your player was cautioned, was the ball clearly out - as in, the opponent had even stopped? If so, a caution could be warranted, depending on what actually happened (if one player is challenging when the other isn't, it can put the other player at more risk or even be antagonistic). Similarly, if as part of this the ball was kicked away, it could have been interpreted as kicking the ball away to delay the restart - or even denying the restart if it's preventing the opponent from collecting the ball if it's their restart. The referee needs to try to judge what's actually happening in the situation - sometimes a player simply doesn't realise the ball has gone out, and that shouldn't be the player's fault. It comes down to how the referee interpreted the actions.

I've cautioned players for continuing to challenge when the ball has gone out, because I've interpreted the situation as it was clear to the player that the ball was out and the challenge was just completely unnecessary, or it was a cynical attempt to kick the ball away. And sometimes I've just accepted these 'out of play' challenges as a bit of bad luck, just one of this things. It all depends.

As for your second scenario - I can only suggest that perhaps the ball didn't go out. As a referee I've seen plenty of scenarios where most people would swear black and blue that the ball was out by a yard when it was still slightly on the line, and there are actual psychological reasons why people will be so firm on what they think they've seen, which I won't get into. But one thing I've realised is that it's surprising how much the ball can look like it's out before it actually is out. If any sliver of the ball is still above the line, it's still in - that means there can actually be grass showing between the line and the ball, and the ball still in play (try it - place the ball with a sliver above the line and the rest out, then walk 10, 20, 30 yards away and have a look).

Of course, perhaps it was out, the referee was depending on the AR to make a decision, and the AR was behind play and couldn't tell with certainty that it was out? While you may be certain it was, it's a lot easier to be 'certain' as a player, coach or spectator than as a referee - as your certainty doesn't actually affect anything, whereas the referee needs to be 100% certain as that decision can change the match. Any doubt, play keeps going.

As Ref Dawson states, it doesn't hurt if the players put a hand up or give a shout if the ball is out - it may help sometimes - as long as they know that the referee may disagree with them and keep play continuing.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe Manjone


NFHS (High School) Rule 9.1.1 states that a ball is out of play when it has completely crossed a goal line or touchline on the ground or in the air. NFHS Rule 9.1.3 states that the referee shall sound the whistle when needed to indicate that the ball is out of play.

In your first example, the ball was obviously out of bounds so that the referee did not feel that a whistle was necessary. However, if the ball was still being played, the appropriate response by the referee should have been the sounding of the whistle to stop play, not a caution. The only excuse that I can make for the referee is that he/she thought the player was aware that the ball was out of bounds and that the continued playing of the ball resulted in unnecessary delay of the game.

In your second example, the referee and AR apparently did not agree with you and your player that the ball did go out of bounds, and believed it still to be in play. If it had gone out of bounds, the ball was out of play and, once again, the appropriate response by the referee, when the ball continued to be played, is to sound the whistle indicating the ball was out of play.

I believe that the best advice to give your players is to play the ball until the whistle is sounded, the AR raises the flag, or it is obvious that the ball is out of bounds (a least one yard) from the boundary line.

I hope that the remainder of your season is very successful, and that Mazama wins your rematches with North Valley and Phoenix.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Ryan,
Obviously, I don't know how long you've been a coach but I wonder how many of these incidents have occurred. You only mention two individual, specific incidents. Unless there is something very unusual going with the refereeing in your area, I would suspect that these were relatively exceptional incidents and there is a legal adage that says (more or less) that exceptional cases make bad law. So rather than basing your advice to your players on the exception rather than the rule, I would say continue to base it on the rule, which is, 'play to the whistle' - unless of course, it is absolutely and totally obvious the ball is out, with no possible doubt. If the ball is five yards out of play and players continue to engage in a physical contest, the referee is likely to take a dim view of it.

So if there is genuine doubt that the ball is out of play, keep going till the whistle sounds - but if it is clearly well, well over the line (not even close) then players should not continue challenging an opponent for the ball. As ref Manjone points out, if the ball is just slightly out but players continue playing, the referee should then blow the whistle and not immediately start cautioning players.

Hopefully in future you will not encounter too many more incidents like the ones you describe.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Ryan
I would make a few points.
Rarely if ever do players get cautioned for playing on when the ball is slightly out of play or questionably so. I suspect in the first example the caution may have been for the manner of the challenge on the line rather than for playing a ball that might have been out of play. Playing the ball on a tight out of play situation is not unusual and rarely if ever should it pick up a caution. The caution usually happens for dissent or for knowingly kicking the ball away or for a poor challenge whith the ball out of play. So the advice on tight line calls is to play on until the whistle sounds.
This happens a lot in games where a players tries to keep the ball in play and an AR flags it out. The player may continue until the referee whistles to stop play. If a player was to be cautioned for those there could be a caution for every tight line call. That does not happen.
The second instance is a follow on from that. Players are expected to play until the ball goes clearly out of play or until play has stopped. On tight line calls it is expected that player will continue until a decision has been made. If some one is playing on then players should play on until play is stopped.
In the past I have seen many appeals for ball out of play in tight call situations and players continued until the referee stopped play. No possible caution for doing that. Sure both players cannot be guilty of unsporting behaviour for playing on.

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