Commentary

Rule-change proposals: The final whistle idea makes sense

Some of the latest rule-change proposals, which include no rebounds on penalty kicks, are radical enough to spark debate. But a tweak to when refs blow the final whistle -- that would be a smooth and sensible implementation.

The proposals:

• Allow players to dribble the ball on free kicks and corner kicks.

• Not require goal kicks to leave the penalty area before the kicker’s teammate plays the ball.

• Award a goal after a hand-ball by the defense on a goal-bound shot (even if the ball doesn’t cross the line).

• No rebound attempts after penalty kicks. (After the save, the game is stopped and the keeper’s team is awarded a goal kick.)

• Change the length of the game from 90 minutes to 60 while having the refs stop the clock whenever the ball is out of play.

• The whistle for halftime, full-time, end of overtime to be blown only when the ball is out of play.

The IFAB, in charge of soccer’s rules, will be considering these proposals and decide in March which, if any, to experiment with.

Waiting until the ball is out of bounds to blow the final whistle -- I like that for several reasons.

No. 1, because I ref, and this scenario comes up quite often. You’re running around at the end of the game (or before halftime) glancing at your watch, deciding when to blow the whistle.


It’s not that simple, because where the ball is can influence referees on when to blow the whistle, and the rulebook gives you leeway rather than specific instructions on stoppage time.

Let’s say the game is tied, 1-1, the watch indicates there are 10 seconds left. But a team is approaching the goal. When the watch indicates that time is up, you blow the whistle in the middle of a solid goalscoring opportunity.

I have seen this happen, where a ref blows the whistle as a shot was taken, and it hits the net after the final whistle. No goal. And you can imagine the protests.

Was the ref wrong? Not at all, according to the rulebook. But I’ve discussed this with referees and even they will criticize each other about how to handle such a situation.

We’ve seen often enough a coach on the sideline gesticulating that time should be up while the opponent is attacking -- and I think referees in general resist blowing the whistle right before a scoring chance. One of the most famous incidents came in the 1978 World Cup when Zico scored on a header off a corner kick that would have given Brazil a 2-1 win had Welsh ref Clive Thomas not blown the whistle after waiting for the corner kick to be taken.

There’s nothing in the rulebook about a referee allowing a free kick or a corner kick to be taken if it was called just before time ran out. (There is for a penalty kick: “Additonal time is allowed.”) The rulebook provides guidelines for adding stoppage time, including adding time after stoppage time has been announced if there are further delays -- but the guidelines are imprecise and much is up to the judgment of the referee.

That would be addressed by the rule-change proposal that would turn soccer into a 60-minute game with the ref stopping the clock when the ball is out of play and eliminating stoppage time.

In any event, implementing, with the current timing system, the rule in which the referee waits until the ball is out of bounds to blow the full-time whistle would eliminate confusion and unburden referees of a difficult call.

Eliminated would be the possibility of a referee blowing the whistle right before a scoring chance or accusations that the referee was giving a team too much time for fear of protests if the ref denied it a scoring opportunity.

Under the current rules, the referee is the only person who knows when the game is ending while the players, coaches and fans -- in some cases, millions of fans -- have no idea.

With this small rule change, everybody knows that a team has a chance to score as long as it keeps the ball in play.

That’s an improvement.

28 comments about "Rule-change proposals: The final whistle idea makes sense ".
  1. Randy Vogt, June 20, 2017 at 9:39 p.m.

    Old positioning of the officials during the taking of the corner kick. The ref is on the goal line on the far side of the AR, I remember that. The AR is on the goal line in front of the corner flag rather than behind it, I don't remember that. Also, the AR's would immediately run to the ref at full-time today rather than have the ref walk off the field alone, as in this clip.

  2. Richard T. Lynch, June 20, 2017 at 10:45 p.m.

    I shuttered at first at the prospect of a 60 minute game with stoppage on out of play balls, BUT if the clock also stopped for any and all "injuries" then this would stop all the silly time wasting as players "died" from fouls suffered on the pitch. There would be no advantage to rolling around on the field, other than it would be an easy way to get your team a rest. Hmm, other than the latter, I think I might like this idea after all. Has anybody actually timed the total amount of time the ball is in play in a typical game?

  3. Michael Canny, June 20, 2017 at 11:50 p.m.

    I for one do NOT like that idea of the 60 minute game with multiple stoppages.We'd spend too much time and attention on stopping and starting the clock, and not enough on play itself.

  4. :: SilverRey :: replied, June 21, 2017 at 1:10 p.m.

    This seems way too ready-made for adding in commercial breaks!

  5. Craig Cummings, June 21, 2017 at 12:07 a.m.

    In USSF we use a law book, in High School and college we use a Rule book.

  6. PJ , June 21, 2017 at 12:14 a.m.

    Stopping the clock, for any reason or any fraction of a second, opens the door for commercials. Definitely not in favor. Refs should send injured players off the pitch and subjectively delay their return for one or two minutes if the ref thought the player was faking or time wasting.

  7. Nicholas Adams, June 21, 2017 at 12:44 a.m.

    The people who put this together were either on some sort of substance when they thought up these ridiculous ideas or it is an attempt to further 'americanise' the game. 90 minutes is fine, the game is supposed to flow not be stop start like other american sports.
    Whoever thought these up should never be allowed anywhere near a game.

  8. R2 Dad replied, June 21, 2017 at 10:52 a.m.

    This 60 minute rule will be referred to as "keeping American time" and will cause no end of shame.

  9. John Schubert, June 21, 2017 at 7:27 a.m.

    Why does the game need to be "improved?" The review system of goals in the Confederation Cup has been a disaster. Taking away judgement by the referees turns the sport into a video game. The worst thing about College Soccer is the Game Clock that fails to allow the referee to add time for players who use delaying tactics on throw ins or goal kicks. Please do not destroy the best sport in the world with these inane rule changes.

  10. Dan Eckert, June 21, 2017 at 7:32 a.m.

    Stopping the clock for any "dead" ball would be a pain for the ref in any game would be a pain. Having to start and stop both watches every time the ball goes out. In some U-12 games - some times teams can't get off the touch line for a few minutes. Does not seem practical.
    Ending the 1/2 and/or game when the ball is out of play is not an awful idea.

  11. Brent Crossland, June 21, 2017 at 9:02 a.m.

    I agree with the majority of comments above - stopping the clock is only going to cause problems. For an example, look at basketball. Who has not seen an argument at the timekeeper's desk about whether the clock was started or stopped at the correct time? If IFAB wants to stop time-wasting by 'fake' injuries simply take a look at the way rugby handles injuries. I suggest - 1) play continues unless the referee decides the injury is serious or the injured player's location interferes with play; 2) trainers allowed on the field during play - again, as long as location doesn't interfere; and, 3) if trainers come out the player must leave and reenter. We would have 90% fewer stoppages for injuries!

  12. John Allen, June 21, 2017 at 9:19 a.m.

    Only whistling the end of the game when the ball is out of play poses the defense to continually play the ball out play as an additional way of defense when extra time has expired. So when the defense purposely gives up a corner kick with the intent to end half/match, does this not put the referee into a position that one more corner kick is to be allowed (as they are always perceived as a goal scoring opportunity). I still firmly view that the referee is the one person in charge of the field in all aspects and taking away from this responsibility questions the authority of the referee.

  13. Fire Paul Gardner Now, June 21, 2017 at 9:49 a.m.

    The game is great as it is. Just leave it alone.

  14. Ginger Peeler, June 21, 2017 at 10:01 a.m.

    Good point, PJ!

  15. John Soares, June 21, 2017 at 1:27 p.m.

    NONE of these proposals make much/ANY sense. Sorry Mike... usually I would agree with you. As a referee, I have seen continuous play go on for 7 to 10 minutes. "Only kept track because one team was trying to sub". A more agreeable solution might be; In case of an "attacking" play, including a corner kick. Whistle will not be blown until there is a "clean or clear" clearance.
    Or, CCC:)

  16. Kent James replied, June 21, 2017 at 3:37 p.m.

    Good point. You also might have the spectacle of the team that is ahead constantly kicking the ball out of bounds to make sure the ref has a chance to end the game ("Are we done yet?"). The Welsh referee's decision to let the corner kick be taken, but blow the whistle immediately after was certainly ridiculous (and I thought the Brazilian protestations were quite mild, though the commentator did not). If the game is over, blow it before they take the kick (maybe they were supposed to time it exactly, as they do in college (in which case it is understandable)? Don't know, I wasn't reffing in 1978)

  17. John Soares, June 21, 2017 at 2:08 p.m.

    Mike, your reasoning's/examples while fair, point mostly to a poor ref and not a bad rule. Couple of years ago (I was a spectator, my team won) U-16 game tournament semi final. With about a minute left score is 2-1. Team that is ahead clears the ball hard. Ball goes on to the parking lot, takes a minute to recover the ball and set up the corner. As the player is about to take the kick, referee blows the whistle. Legal, yes. Ball is out of play, yes. (new rule) Poor reefing YES.

  18. beautiful game, June 21, 2017 at 2:19 p.m.

    The game suffers more from incompetent referees and players who take advantage of these delinquent referees by stretching the LOTG to the limit. I.E., off the ball fouls rarely punished, picking up and holding on to the ball (never punished), verbal abuse rarely punished, penalty box scrums not enforced; flopping rarely punished, delay of game rarely punished unless it's the last couple minutes of game. The lack rule enforcement is out of control.

  19. R2 Dad replied, June 21, 2017 at 5:37 p.m.

    I think you should specify if these poorly-officiated matches are youth games, adult amateur matches, or professional contests you are referring to, since each league and level has it's own officiating issues. Lumping them together doesn't help clarify; professional referees and players are generally not incompetent, but you could easily say that for most players and many officials at U8. Are you referring to UEFA or CONCACAF officials? They are a world apart, except at the highest FIFA levels. It's been my experience that kids U12 and below are corruption-free but every year beyond that creates more diving, conniving and jiving as the kids mimic their coaches and the professionals on TV. Picking the ball out of the net to restart play doesn't really speed up play--it's only to incite the opponent. Handling the ball after a foul is always poor sportsmanship and against the LOTG but the pros get away with it so you see it more and more at younger ages. I'll see your "crummy referees" and raise you "incompetent coaches who teach their players unsporting behavior". Call?

  20. Wooden Ships, June 21, 2017 at 4:59 p.m.

    I w makes some excellent points. I guess my soccer playing and coaching days were much more enjoyable than the majority of posters who seem to always want to change, what is already the most perfect team sport. For many of you, the joy of the sport has passed you bye or never picked you up and regardless of your endless desire to tweak this or that, you'll never be content.

  21. James Madison, June 21, 2017 at 6:18 p.m.

    With the possibility of requiring the CR to show when time is stopped and started time and will, accordingly, be added for injuries, substitutions, goal scoring celebrations or other delays, I am with those who shudder at the proposals.

  22. R2 Dad, June 21, 2017 at 9:17 p.m.

    RE: rule changes. Watching the NZ-Mexico match, I might suggest the media be allowed those microphones with the satellite dishes on them, in order to pick up conversations on the pitch and technical area. Why? So the fans, AR4 and announcers can hear what these coaches are actually saying AND the players/coaches can be reprimanded for unsporting behavior. There was quite a bit of salty language between coaches in this match. Technically, the officials can card/eject players/coaches for this language. If we saw how bad and persuasive it was, wouldn't we vilify these people? Soccer is a physical game, but is it really necessary to facilitate/exacerbate this by omitting their bad language from broadcasts? I think this disrespectful behavior is not in accordance with the spirit of the game and we should demand better behavior from our players/coaches, especially when it's representing the country in an international tournament. BTW, this isn't "your mother is a dog"--more like "you're a Mother-fncker". After all, soccer is a gentleman's game played by hooligans. Should we turn off the microphones because we have such low expectations of these people?

  23. Craig Cummings, June 21, 2017 at 9:34 p.m.

    W S I am not so much into change, but I did like the NASL 35 yard offside rule. It opened up space for more goals.

  24. Nick Daverese, June 21, 2017 at 11 p.m.

    Most new proposals have been to score more goals. I have a new proposal have the players work on the skill work more and they will score more goals. Here is another the keeper can no longer use their hands to touch the ball. Or have three goals on the end line. or get better more skillful players and you will have more scoring.

  25. Ben Myers, June 22, 2017 at 4:45 p.m.

    Stopping the clock for any "dead" ball??? Did Roger Goodell write this one or was it Adam Silver?

  26. Brian McLindsay, June 23, 2017 at 1:42 p.m.

    Fully understanding and believing in game flow, I happen to believe for professional soccer to continue to grow in the U.S., it will need more revenue to enter the system. I don't want to see the game shortened to 60 minutes but neither do I want to have the game extended like the never ending 2 minutes in basketball or the three hour long football games. To address the revenue issue, set pieces not in the last 10 minutes of the game would be an ideal place for a 30 second clock stoppage as a paying commercial is run, after all almost every set piece takes longer than 30 seconds to set up, as the players mill around setting the wall and discussion are held as to who will actually take the shot. Even during a corner in most cases it is taking more than 30 seconds and the flow of the game is generally interrupted as it stands. I only see during the final minutes of the game do the set pieces fall into the flow of the game, so prohibit clock stoppages during the final 10 minutes which would cover almost all of the frantic play that happens at the end of close games.

  27. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, June 23, 2017 at 3:45 p.m.

    More commercials? No thanks.

  28. Wooden Ships replied, June 25, 2017 at 12:07 a.m.

    Brian, there is no ther sport in the US that comes close to the growth of professional and quasi professional soccer. You run a risk of stunting that growth if we try to change the game.

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