A few things to think about as the season is wrapping up and my legs are still feeling surprisingly good.
Division 3 college women’s game in a 0-0 tie with 72 minutes played so far. Green plays a deep through ball. Orange keeper leaves the box and makes a very hard but fair challenge on the forward. The referee and the assistant referee both hear a snap-crackle-pop. The ball pops 30 yards into the air as both players go to the ground and half a second later, the keeper lets go a blood curdling scream.
The ball falls to the ground inside the box and there is a single on-rushing Green attacker who has a clear run onto the ball. Two Orange defenders are sprinting back but it is questionable if they can get a fair challenge on the ball.
What do you do?
What do you do to #10? Is there a caution or a pat on the back?
The score is 8-0 with 19 minutes left in the game. Blue plays a ball that should have been angled to the corner through the defense. It goes linear instead of diagonal. The Red keeper collects the ball with his feet and drags it back into the box. The Red keeper futzes around with the ball for thirty five seconds and there is no pressure on the ball.
What do you do?
Oh yeah, Red is the team that is down eight.
The center referee has not been having a good game. He is missing calls, he is inconsistent on what he is calling and his positioning leaves a lot to be desired. So far, the players have become visibly frustrated and the coaches are not happy but there has not been an explosion of chaos on the field. As an assistant referee what do you do?
C1: It is seven minutes to half time
C2: It is seven minutes in the second half and the players are grumbling but not whacking
C3: It is twelve minutes left in the second half and the players are taking their frustration out on each other.
More effective than the Bills defenders: pic.twitter.com/PMWw1dzlJ2
— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) October 30, 2016
Look at the arrow… what do you do?
It is the final game of the season. Yellow is sub-.500 and Green is out of the conference and NCAA play-offs. It is Yellow’s Senior Day and between the two teams they are starting fourteen seniors. What do you expect?
Scenario A is tough. The center referee can not win.
Our first priority is always player safety. Our second priority is fairness. Player safety wins. The referee, a NISOA national, killed the play as soon as he heard the snap-crackle-pop. I was AR-1 and in my experience of mumble-mumble thousand games, that sound is an indicator that surgery will be needed. All of the players accepted the call, although Green’s coach was rip-shit. He calmed down by the time the ambulance had arrived to take both the attacker and the keeper to the hospital as their legs were hanging like farm gates.
A1 is interesting. I have a handball and nothing else. Once the keeper is tended to and we can restart I am having a brief word with the defender who is kicking the ball. I’ll remind him that the ball really, really, really should go back to the attacking team around mid-field. At the professional level, that is not needed. At the high college and high youth development level, that is not needed. At D-3 college, high school or recreational levels, that reminder is very useful.
Scenario B is really simple — pray for lightening. Referees can not tell teams which tactics to use. A keeper is allowed to futz around with a ball in the box for as long as they want to. The attacking team has the option to pressure the keeper to force him to make a decision to either distribute with his feet or pick the ball up and get the game moving again. At this point in the game, neither team wants to do anything to get hurt or get ejected, so the referee should respect that indicated preference and call the game really tight so no one can get hurt even at the cost of blowing up flow.
Scenario C relies on trust. A good referee needs feedback from their assistant referee. If the assistant referee determines that the referee is having a rough game in the first half, the obvious course of action is to continue to watch the referee’s back, get the obvious, notice the frustration and then talk to the referee at half time. The conversation is broad and it can be specific: “What’s going on, the players are getting frustrated as you called the trip in the 13th and 27th but did nothing on worse fouls in the 22nd and 29th… What do you want me to call, do you need me to take more of my quadrant and expand? Watch out for #22 he is getting whacked every time he distributes the ball out….”
The assistant referee has limited power. All we have is privileged information. The referee is the only one who can make an active decision based on our information. So if the referee is still blowing chunks in the second half and the players are starting to grumble the assistant referee has to walk the fine line between “assisting not insisting.” If the referee is looking for help, we can expand our foul zone, we can talk to players more, we can try to calm down coaches. If the referee is waving down flags, or not taking our information into consideration, our options decrease.
As the players get more and more frustrated and they start taking it out on each other, the ability of the assistant referees to help without insisting gets narrower. We can ask for cards, we can ask for fouls, we can ask for game control. At this point, the center referee should know that the game just has not gone right. IF that is the case, we might escape the game with way too many avoidable cautions and a defensible but preventable send-off or three. If the referee still thinks the game is going well, the most important thing the assistant referees can do is map out a path to either the locker room or the parking lot and remember exactly where the keys are. Gear may be abandoned to be collected an hour after the final whistle.
Scenario D — you laugh and hope the ball does not hit the dildo as that is an outside agent/outside interference report that I really don’t want to write.