Systems of Control

Published on October 22, 2016


By: John Van de Vaarst – National Clinician

The NFHS Rules Book indicates in Rule 5 that there are three systems of control that can be used by officials during an interscholastic game. “The officials shall be a head referee and a referee, a single referee and two assistant referees or a center referee and two side referees…” The first system is commonly referred to as the dual system, the second diagonal system, and the final system the double-dual. Almost without exception, the state high school association chooses what system of control will be used. If the state does not adopt a system competing schools may do so by prior mutual agreement. States also may adopt more than one system depending on the games being played. For example, afternoon games use the dual system while night games the diagonal. Dual systems are used throughout the season and when the playoffs progress to later rounds, the diagonal or double-dual is utilized.

In the dual system of control there is a lead and trail official. Each is on one side of the field. The lead official follows the attack down the field and the trail is behind the play observing both the play and of the ball situations. During dynamic play the two officials should be on a diagonal with each other. The lead official should be ahead of the play and have the ability to observe fouls, determine if the ball crosses the touch or goal line and be in good position to properly judge offside. The trail official will be behind the play on his/her side of the field. This official must be able to move past the half-way line and penetrate into the attack area so that he/she can easily view the play and work with the lead official as a team. How far the trail official penetrates is dependent on the style of play. If the play is being reversed and the ball kicked deeply down the field, the trail cannot move as far down the field. If the game is at a pace where play is developed more slowly, the trail official should move deeper down field to provide better assistance to the lead official.  Both officials must flow with the play moving up and down the field and moving toward the center of the field when the play is on the opposite side. Both officials must be fit enough to move as required to be in good position throughout the game. Each official has specific duties for dealing with substitutions and restarts. The NFHS Rules Book section on the dual system should be reviewed on a regular basis so that these requirements are clearly understood.

The diagonal officiating system has one referee and two assistant referees. The referee assigns the duties and responsibilities to the assistants during the pre-game conference. This should be a two sided conversation with the assistant referees asking questions and seeking clarity on they are expected to perform. The referee chooses a diagonal to run on the field and the assistant referees stay on the touch line on the opposite sides of the diagonal. The referee has final decision on infractions to the rules. The assistant referees utilize a flag to advise the referee that they have observed a problem. The referee may or not acknowledge the signal. It is most important to agree on what an assistant referee should do in the event the referee does not accept a signal. This could be that the referee missed the signal or elected to ignore it. There must be clarity on what the assistant should do if the referee missed the signal. One of the primary responsibilities of the assistant referees is indicating offside. The assistant referees must maintain a good position, even with the second to the last defender, the decision about offside accurately. The assistant referees must also follow all balls to the goal line to be in the right position to indicate the ball out of play or a goal scored. If the assistant referee is not in good position, he/she may not be able to make a correct called.

The double-dual system, sometimes called the three-whistle system, utilizes three referees on the field with equal jurisdiction. In this system the officials take up positions similar to the diagonal system. The difference is that the officials on the side use a whistle to make a decision and that decision becomes final. The referees may rotate positions during the course of the game so that each have an opportunity to observe the game from different perspectives. The referees on the side move into the field as they would in a dual system form of control. This system allows the referees to be nearer to the play and observe more situations.

In summary, any of the systems of control can be used in an interscholastic game. The critical item is that no matter what the system the officials assigned work as a team so that the game is properly controlled and the players have the opportunity to exhibit their skills in a safe manner.

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