By Randy Vogt
I hate to be a Grinch during this Christmas season but there’s a problem with a good minority of college and high school games, at least the ones that I have been officiating. Earlier this year, I wrote about Preventing Lopsided Scores in which I partly took leagues and tournaments to task for grouping teams that are not competitive when they play one another.
One of the reasons that the U.S. Soccer Development Academy has prohibited its players from competing in high school soccer is it says that too many of those games are not competitive. I am not in favor of this ban for most kids as the publicity and community support does wonders for many high school players but on the issue of how competitive some of their games are, they certainly have a point.
I have refereed high school games in two states, briefly in Florida 25 years ago and in New York during the past decade, and have been a college official since 1986. In New York, high school soccer is played during the fall, the same season for the college season, so it’s a very busy time for refereeing. I also officiate high school teams in a summer league as well as college teams in exhibition games before the season.
Referees are to officiate the game the same way whether it’s 0-0 or 10-0. Not whistling fouls in favor of the team leading by many goals or calling phantom fouls in favor of squads on the losing end of a rout will get the referee in trouble as the ref can never favor one team.
It turns out that many of the high school, junior college and college games that I have officiated this fall have not been competitive, much more so than the youth or amateur games I have officiated. The main reason being that conferences are formed based on a combination of geography and competition in all sports plus possibly religious affiliation while soccer league divisions organized under the U.S. Soccer umbrella are based on competition in just soccer and possibly geography. So with high school or college play, the schools might be competitive in basketball and volleyball but not in soccer.
Here are statistics of my games. I am considering a rout to be a win by five goals or more:
• College, junior college and high school games played this fall -- 34 games officiated and 35% were routs
• College, junior college and high school games played before the season that the coaches set up -- 28 games officiated and 4% were routs
• Youth and amateur games played this fall-64 games officiated and 8% were routs
I should point out that any Division 1 college games I officiated were competitive and routs were more of an issue in the lower divisions and junior colleges.
Exacerbating the percentage of routs in college, junior college and high school games is the fact that official time is kept on the scoreboard and the clock stops after every goal. With official time on the field, the ref would do the common sense thing and not add time after every goal in a blowout. It’s just another reason why college and high school soccer should get in sync with the rest of the world by using FIFA rules with official time being kept by the referee.
Also exacerbating the percentage of routs is the fact that there is no roster size limit in college and high school soccer so you sometimes have 25 players playing against 12. The subs of the larger team are fresh and often very hungry as they might not get on the field much, all while the smaller team is tiring.
In a Division 3 women’s college game that I recently refereed, I got the impression before the game that the visiting team did not expect the game to be competitive. They had lost to the same team, 11-0, last year but their team’s record had improved this year. The home team attacked from the opening whistle. The final score was 8-0 and there was a 61-1 differential in shots.
But the most surreal game that I officiated recently was at Macombs Dam Park in the Bronx, on the site of Yankee Stadium from 1923 to 2008, across the street from the new Yankee Stadium and right near the latest proposal for New York City FC to build a stadium. I did not think the game would be competitive as it was between a nationally ranked junior college and another junior college that was winless. Only nine players from the winless team showed up.
Before we could start the game, high school players came for their game. Their coach also had a permit for the same field and same time, signed by the same woman as the junior college permit. After some of the high school players tried to stage a sit-in on the field to prevent our game from getting started, cooler heads prevailed and they left as we were at the field first.
Our final score was 19-1 and the shot differential was 33-4. Despite that loss, the winless squad went on to win a couple of games. Three teams make the playoffs in their very small conference and these teams finished in second and third place so they played in the first round. The final score of that game was an also unbelievable 20-0.
It’s about time that schools do not schedule games when one team is so much better than another as it does not benefit anybody. As seen in the statistics on my games above, the college and high school coaches have it right regarding who their team should be playing but the athletic directors often do not as they are taking into account other sports.
I would be interested in knowing if Soccer Americans, through their comments below, have noticed a large number of non-competitive games on the college and high school level as well.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In his book, "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 www.preventiveofficiating.com/)