Two years ago, I wrote about The Two-Ref System: Its Flaws and How to Cope. The two-ref system is still only used widely in American high school soccer and I will be very happy when the two refs finally become one ref and two ARs in all outdoor soccer games. With much of the United States playing high school soccer during the fall, now’s a good time to revisit this antiquated system.
In the original article, I stated that my work in a summer league for high school teams was pretty good, partly because of my excellent partner who also had professional game experience. We had officiated a good deal together up to that point in the diagonal system as he had been my assistant referee and I had been his AR. But we never refereed together in the two-ref system before that. Yet I knew his philosophy of refereeing which is similar to mine. We enjoyed ourselves a great deal even given the limitations of this system. We certainly did not have any issues with the teams. Based on the referee shirt color that he likes to wear on the field and my favorite movie, we called ourselves Black to the Future.
This summer league is played on weekday nights when there are few games so the referee assignor has the choice who he is going to use. And he only uses refs on a weekly basis who are in the top 25 percent in his view of the refs on Long Island. A lesson to be learned here for organizations that keep growing and growing is that the growth might come at the expense of quality officiating in many games as the assignor has little choice but to use all certified officials who are available.
My four partners during the past two summers in this league have been pretty good too but we generally did not have the level of teamwork and very similar philosophy as my original partner. So no names for my new tag-team partners. No matter which referee system is being used, it’s important that the officials communicate at halftime what they see on the field. In one girls high school game, my partner said No. 30 white, a forward, kept on complaining that she was “being held” by a defender.
When she was on my end the next half, she was quiet until midway through the half when she complained about being “hacked.” A few minutes later, the ball went to her by the touchline so she was right in front of me. Her cross was deliberately handled by a defender outside the penalty area but rebounded to her teammate who was now dribbling on goal. I yelled “Play on!” and she then complained, after I played the advantage, that I somehow should have stopped play instead. The shot was saved and went to No. 30 inside the penalty area, who had the ball cleanly tackled away. She yelled that she was fouled as the ball went over the touchline, so I cautioned her for dissent.
As per high school rules, she needed to be substituted and the team, leading 2-0, left her on the bench for the rest of the game. The defender marking her thanked my partner and I after the game for controlling her. But if my partner did not tell me that she was a problem when we spoke at halftime, I would not taken action as quickly.
One referee I worked with had a good deal of experience in this summer league and controlled the game rather well. But I noticed that what she whistled as a foul in the middle of the field, she often would not whistle as a foul if it was near the goal, no matter which team was committing the foul. For me, a foul is a foul is a foul and if it means I call a foul near the goal that influences the outcome of the game, so be it. What to do?
I cheated as play moved upfield so if the ball was in the penalty area, I would not be too far away to whistle a foul if warranted. One problem being, and this is a limitation of the two-ref system, if I whistled a foul right in front of her, the reaction would be how I could call something from 35 yards away when she was much closer. The other problem being, I needed to really hustle to be able to call offside if play moved in the other direction.
It’s a problem when the ref and assistant referee have two different philosophies in the diagonal system of control but the ref could always overrule the AR. It can be a disaster when the two referees in the two-ref system have different philosophies as the game will be officiated differently in different parts of the field. So it’s not a surprise that when this high school summer league gets to the playoffs, the diagonal system is used instead.
It’s interesting that I have also used the two-ref system with better success with indoor soccer, whether it was in indoor tournaments during the 1980s and 1990s or in futsal since the turn of the millennium. With fewer players to watch and control plus a smaller field, the two-ref system works fine in those venues.
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.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 9,000 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 "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.)