Ref Watch: Time to Follow the Rest of the World

By Randy Vogt

Soccer has never been more popular in the United States. Tens of millions Americans watched the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Women’s World Cup, MLS is experiencing record attendance and my own father Bill Vogt, more of a football and baseball fan, could even tell you the secret signals between referees and AR’s. Take a wild guess who he learned those from!

The games that all these Americans are watching use FIFA’s rules. Yes, there might be some modifications for youth soccer but these are the rules used throughout the world.

Except if you were to tune in to a college game or high school match that uses different rules from the “Laws of the Game.” There are even subtle differences between college rules and high school rules. Yet over the years, college rules have slowly evolved to resemble the FIFA’s rules a little more.

In New York, both high school and college soccer are played during the fall, when I also ref games under the umbrella of U.S. Soccer. I often have to remind myself during each game the set of rules I am enforcing.

While I doubt that either college soccer or high school soccer would take the bold and correct step of dissolving their rules committees and simply adopting the FIFA rulebook, I have a suggestion where they can keep their rules committees yet align much more with the rest of the world. To do that, they would stop using the scoreboard as official time and let the ref have official time on the field. The scoreboard would start counting up to inform spectators of how far we are into the game.

When MLS first kicked off in 1996, it experimented with official time on the scoreboard but soon found out that it works much better with the ref having official time on his watch.

Last year, nearly 5% of my college and high school games had a goal disallowed by the buzzer of the scoreboard. If I had the official time on my watch, I would have done the common sense thing and extended the half a couple of seconds while the ball went into the goal.

With the scoreboard as official, there’s the added problem for the officials of determining if the ball crossed the line before the period was over. Plus, when the ball is at midfield and the scoreboard has a couple of seconds left, teams stop playing, which looks really bad. They don’t do that with the when the ref keeps time as they never know exactly when the ref will end the half.

By making the ref’s watch official, the NCAA and HS Federation could get rid of many of the responsibilities of the timekeeper and the rules of when to stop the clock.

They could also change their rule that when a throw-in does not enter the field, it goes to the other team as it was thought the winning team was deliberately throwing the ball outside the touchline to waste time. With the ref having official time, the ref could simply add time. It makes sense that you should not award the throw-in to the other team as it was never in play.

Same deal with cautions, which stop the scoreboard clock. There’s a NCAA rule that allows the ref to keep the clock running in the last five minutes of the game when the ref believes a member of the losing team deliberately got cautioned to stop the clock. You cannot make this stuff up!

(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

6 comments about "Ref Watch: Time to Follow the Rest of the World ".
  1. Greg Giese, September 2, 2015 at 10:03 a.m.

    Another aspect of that stinking clock is this. I am defending a 1 goal lead and I can see there is 20 seconds left and there is a breakaway. That attacker is going down one way or the other. I've seen some brutal tackles from behind in the closing seconds as well as the goal disallowed due to horn with the ball in the air on the way to a goal. Terrible.

  2. Brian Quesinberry, September 2, 2015 at 12:23 p.m.

    I have always been told that the game is two 45 min halves. How can you ethically extend the game and change its outcome if you know the game should be over? If you needed to use stoppage time then you should stop your watch to account for it.

  3. Ric Fonseca, September 2, 2015 at 2:55 p.m.

    To Mr. BQ: Yes you're right, however, just how many times have you attended a game at whatever level and have noted/seen coaches from either side yell, scream, and rant at the Referee that time has expired, yet, play goes on until at the discretion of the game officials, plus the fourth one (MLS and pro international games) calls the game? And unless something has changed, an official doesn't really stop his watch (stop-reset, etc)rather, as Mr. Vogt said above, there is that unseen signal by the AR's with the ref to indicate how much more time to allow play to continue! Now, here's one for the history books: Up to the '70's futbol-soccer game officials doing college games, used to wear striped black/white shirts, knickers, AND a little hat a-la-football games; two refs were used, and they used to play the game (as memory will serve me correct) in quarters, with a compressed air horn blasting and the two minute countdown - now the final ten seconds - started! And now, though refs wear an entirely different uniform than the days of yore, are still locked in to the NCAA/HS rules, still have the countdown at half-time and end of game, followed by that gawd-awful blast of the horn! Believe me, I know only two well when my alma mater UCLA played the St. Louis Billikens in the early '70s in the - not known then as Final Four - and I am darned sure that those players of those teams can attest to that which I've said! So YES, heck 'tis about time the NCA and HS rules conform with the rest of the world and use the FIFA Laws of the Game... of course allowing the game officials to wear a cap to ward of skin problems from the sun!!!

  4. Ric Fonseca, September 2, 2015 at 3:22 p.m.

    Oh, and I did forget to mention that under NCAA rules, yes, "rules" not "laws of the game" each referee carried on his person, a little booklet outlining the "rules," PLUS a series of hand signals each game official HAD to follow, e.g. hand on hips for offside, both hand raised for a goal, hand to back of knee for tripping, etc.all VERY similar to those used by regular US-football games! So I suppose that after at least 45 years, the NCAA has made some progress! Oh but wait, there is more!!! In Southern California, during the late '70s and thereafter, the California Community College system approved community college soccer games to be played using the FIFA Laws of the Game, much to the consternation of NCAA teams, and it must be said that the credit for using the Laws of the Game is afforded to Dan Goldmann a FIFA official in the area and contemporary of Heinz Wolmerath, Toros Kibritjian, George Noujaim, and others who assisted Mr. Goldmann (a former Biology community college professor.)

  5. Kent James, September 2, 2015 at 3:45 p.m.

    I have mixed feelings about the referee keeping the clock. As an official, it is one more thing to keep track of, and since it really should not be open to interpretation, should be a mechanical decision that requires no skill. But when the official keeps time, he either has to start/stop a watch to allow for stoppage time, or keep mental track of the time (which will never be exactly right). And the problem with using a stop watch to track it, is if you stop it, and then forget to restart it (or hit the button and it doesn't register with the watch), you're screwed (and then you either have to hope your ARs have your back, or get good at guesstimating). Or you can wear two watches (which again, makes things more complicated). On the other hand, when the official has it, he can eliminate the buzzer nullifying a shot that is in the air (but if the time is accurate, and the goal is scored after time expires, should the referee allow the goal??). More importantly, when team's are obviously wasting time, the referee can end it by letting them know that they can waste all they want, but he'll add more time than they waste, so it will be a futile effort on their part. That usually ends it. I guess ideally, the officiating crew has the time, the 4th official keeps it, and the ref just tells the 4th how much to add.

  6. James Madison, September 8, 2015 at 6:14 p.m.

    Bravo, Randy! Under the present regime, the referee is, for example, disabled from adding time for time wasting by a 1-0 leading team that delays in putting a restart into play.

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