By Randy Vogt
With many of the thousands of high school games to be played this fall, and with the high school leagues being played in the winter and spring, the two-referee system (just two refs and no assistant refs) is an unfortunate fact of life. It is also known as the dual system and two-man system but I do not like the latter as it’s an exclusive term.
Perhaps the two-referee system is uniquely American as I have never seen it used outside the United States. Yet because of its inherent limitations, I’m not sure that we want to claim ownership.
The iconic Harry Rodgers introduced the two-ref system to college games in 1941. With far fewer college games and an inferior level of play in the middle of the 20th century compared to today, perhaps the two-ref system for NCAA games was OK back then. When I became a college and junior college official in 1986, this system was used in most games even then. It eventually became less prevalent. Where I live in the New York City area, only a handful of junior college games still use the two-ref system.
I have seen the same movement, albeit slower, away from the two-ref system in high school soccer. Yet I believe that the majority of high school games today, especially when you bring JV matches into the equation, still use two referees. Perhaps Soccer Americans can chime in below with comments whether or not their area still uses two refs for high school soccer and if they find this system adequate.
Basically, the two refs move in somewhat similar positions to where the AR would be in a game officiated in the diagonal system of control. This is an oversimplification, though, as the ref need not be exactly on the touchline in most situations (like the AR is positioned by the touchline throughout the game) and is not always in line with the second-to-last defender. As one example, during the taking of corner kicks, the lead referee is positioned on the goal line with the trail referee on the 18-yard line. The challenge in this scenario is that a quick counterattack would leave no referee in position while, in the diagonal system of control (one ref and two ARs), at least the AR would be waiting for play to move upfield.
Practical positioning in the two-ref system has the ball between the two refs, just as it’s best when the ball is between the ref and AR in the diagonal system.
I refereed a high school league this summer and did well using the two-referee system. But my job was made much easier by my excellent partner who also had professional game experience. A big challenge with the two-ref system is what happens if the two refs have very different abilities or philosophies on how to call the game. Discussing this issue before the game might help matters but the differences can be noticed quite quickly by the players and coaches. It’s bad enough if a ref and AR are not on the same page in the diagonal system of control; it can ruin the match if the refs in the two-ref system are not on the same page as the game is then called very differently in different areas of the field. With my partner this summer, I adjusted my refereeing to mimic his by allowing a bit more contact than I would normally do.
Interestingly, with the semifinals and finals being played in the next week, the league has approved the diagonal system of control for those games instead of the two-ref system, apparently aware that the diagonal system is far superior.
Other challenges with the two-referee system are fouls in the middle of the field are sometimes not whistled since generally the refs are 25 or more yards away. And fouls that are called, especially at midfield, sometimes have one ref pointing in one direction and the other in the opposite direction. A way around this is if both whistles are blown at the same time, the ref closest to the play signals and the other one signals in the same direction (even if that ref disagrees). Plus the advantage clause is not played as often in two-ref games as both refs would have to recognize an advantage developing or one ref would be so far from the play that the ref would not be likely to blow the whistle anyway.
It’s important for the trail referee to move upfield often and not necessarily be in line with the second-to-last defender when the ball is in or near the opposing penalty area. I was the trail referee in a high school championship game when a forward was tripped in the penalty area. I was 25 yards behind the play and I whistled the foul. The lead referee, standing 30 yards to the side of the foul, told me after the game that something did not look right but he did not blow his whistle as he was not certain a foul had occurred. I was confident the right call was made and the replay (the game was being taped for TV) proved that I was correct. A call that would have been much easier to make in the diagonal system of control as the ref would have been right there.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to six-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In Preventive Officiating, he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at http://www.preventiveofficiating.com/)
Do high schools in your area still use the two-ref system? If so, do you find this system adequate? Use the link below to deliver your feedback.