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.
• 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.