Should soccer adopt an accumulated-foul rule?

[MY VIEW] In preparing to referee the futsal competition of the World Police and Fire Games at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan last month, I thought how soccer should experiment with futsal's accumulated-foul rule.

I have never officiated a soccer game in which I heard a coach tell his players before the game, “Do not foul!” But this is a relatively common occurrence in futsal, five-a-side soccer that is the only indoor version of soccer approved by FIFA.

That’s because futsal uses an accumulated-foul rule. With a team’s sixth penal foul (a foul that is punished by a direct kick or penalty kick) in each half, the team gives up a direct kick from the second penalty mark 10 meters from the goal. With the exception of the goalkeeper, all other players must be behind the ball so the defense cannot set up a wall to block the kick. Should the referee use the advantage clause, the “foul” is counted as well.

Every penal foul committed by a team after five of these fouls per half results in a kick from the second penalty mark.

Futsal is a free-flowing version of soccer partly because of the accumulated foul rule. And should a team get to five fouls, they will make a real effort not to commit another foul. Persistent infringement and tactical fouls, sadly all too common in soccer, are virtually non-existent in futsal.

Basketball uses an accumulated foul rule on a team basis (a squad being “over the limit”) and an individual basis (a player fouling out). Speaking of basketball, the size of the court is approximately the size of a futsal field. So let’s say the red team has five fouls and a red attacker pushes a blue defender near blue’s goal. After the whistle blows for the foul, the ball is then moved to the second penalty mark 20 or so meters away. But if soccer adopted this rule exactly as futsal does, the ball would need to be moved nearly the length of the much larger soccer field, breaking up the flow of the game.

So I propose experimenting with the accumulated foul rule this way:

* To simplify matters, soccer would not distinguish between penal fouls and indirect kick fouls in counting fouls.

* Should a team commit its 10th foul of the game, the player committing the foul is sent off and the team plays down a player. That player, though, is not suspended for the next game.

* Should a team commit its 20th foul of the game, the player committing the foul is sent off and the team plays down another player. That player, though, is not suspended for the next game.

* Players would continue to be sent off by the referee for offenses such as violent conduct, serious foul play, denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity, etc. regardless of the number of fouls at the time

A professional soccer game averages nearly 30 fouls total -- 35 or so when you consider the advantage situations not whistled for fouls. Should soccer adopt the accumulated-foul rule, games such as the Netherlands’ 2006 World Cup war with Portugal and the 2010 World Cup final with Spain would be a thing of the past.

I welcome readers’ comments on whether FIFA should experiment with an accumulated foul rule for soccer and what the punishment should be.

(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 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

9 comments about "Should soccer adopt an accumulated-foul rule?".
  1. Kent James, September 29, 2011 at 8:04 a.m.

    Although I appreciate the sentiment, this proposal has some serious flaws. First, if you're including offside as an "indirect kick foul", that seems pretty harsh. Can't imagine sending off a player (and how does the team choose which player?) for someone being called offside. It should be limited to penal fouls. Second, making teams lose a player is the wrong way to go. Send offs can ruin a game, and especially when the player being sent off may not have committed a very serious foul, referees will become hesitant to call that 10th foul (since it will essentially be like issuing a red card). So this might actually make referees more hesitant to call fouls (to avoid getting into the mandatory ejection situation). Awarding a penalty kick to the opposing team would be a better way to go, since goals usually change the game in a positive manner. If a penalty kick is too harsh, perhaps a free kick from the top of the 18 yard box (but under the same conditions as a penalty kick, i.e, no walls allowed).

  2. Marc Silverstein, September 29, 2011 at 8:17 a.m.

    I like the premised but prefer a 2 minute "sin bin" rule instead

  3. Brent Crossland, September 29, 2011 at 8:56 a.m.

    Randy - I haven't logged as many games in the middle as you have but I would argue that the problem is not with the LOTG but with the culture around applying those laws. We already have too many referees who "raise the bar" for fouls in the goal area or for second cautions and who don't seem to understand what "persistent infringement" means. This happens at the highest levels of the game. As Kent points out, for many referees this proposal would simply make the 10th foul harder to call. What is needed is more and better referee instruction and mentoring. . . . . and while you're at it teach them that the fouled team has the right to quick restarts! ;-)

  4. Delete My Account, September 29, 2011 at 10:47 a.m.

    For a person who has officiated as many matches as you have Randy, I must say I am astounded at your proposal. The LOTG have a delicate and inter-laced relationship. Upsetting that balance will detract from the Game. The players will suffer; the fans will suffer...and the Officials will bear the brunt of it.

  5. Bernie Lenhoff, September 29, 2011 at 12:20 p.m.

    I'm all for some kind of cumulative foul rule, based on contact fouls. Wouldn't necessarily have to be the last player to commit a foul-could be a player the coach chooses, or the player with the most fouls at that point, or any yellow carded player.

    People want to see flowing football. A team that can't defend with quality doesn't deserve the advantage they get with cynical/tactical fouls.

  6. Carl Walther, September 29, 2011 at 12:30 p.m.

    FIFA changing something to 'clean up' the game. The last time that was tried, they made a rule that only the team captain could talk to the ref. That rule lasted about five minutes. Get serious. Thug futbol is what they want.

  7. Geren Nichols, September 29, 2011 at 12:55 p.m.

    I think that ice hockey is a interesting model in they send off players without ruining the game. A red card ejection comes so close to deciding the game that as much as intentional fouling the antics that are exhibited to draw a CARD are even worse. Remember Ronaldo. Players could be sent off for cumulative fouls on an individual and team cumulative count. A score might shorten the time in the penalty box.

  8. Ronnie j Salvador, September 29, 2011 at 6:14 p.m.

    I agree with Brent that the issue is the geographical, and sometimes cultural, differences in applying the LOTG. Randy, as you know the tolerance for physicality around Long Island, NYC area, southern CT, or NEPSAC is far higher than what’s typical in upstate NY, northern CT, and Massachusetts. The difference is appalling. The refs who don’t call the appropriate fouls or required cards will simply adjust their style.

    What's needed is better instruction, mentoring; and I would add CONTINUOUS evaluation. Under the current system, once the ref is USSF or NFHS certified, there are generally no longer any further appraisals [other than if they want to move up in Grade]. I realize that there’s a shortage of refs in many places, and many new refs have no background in the game. I’m not sure what’s worse; a shortage of refs [or good refs], or, having more refs that fail to follow the LOTG.
    Occasionally it’s the coaches that are to blame. Some youth and high school coaches will call their area’s assignor and ask to ‘blacklist’ a ref they consider calls it too tightly.

  9. Steve Ridge, September 30, 2011 at 11:37 a.m.

    I agree with the others. Singling out one man and sending him off for the "final" foul will change the entire match. Players should only be sent off based solely on individual performance. It is hard to compare outdoor to futsal because futsal's area of play is so much smaller and there is almost constant contact with the other team. Even in the futsal league that I play in, we don't use the cumulative foul rule and things work fine as long the ref controls the match and cautions individuals as necessary.

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