Ask A Rules Question

Todd Abraham

Todd Abraham

C. Cliff McCrath

C. Cliff McCrath

If you have a question about or need an interpretation of  the NCAA Soccer Rules, you’ve come to the right place. Two NISOA Hall of Famers, long time NCAA Soccer Secretary-Rules Editor, C. Cliff McCrath and NISOA National Rules Interpreter (and current NISOA Senior Director of Instruction) Todd Abraham are active contributors here. Please follow the following guidelines before posting your question:

  • Read the current NCAA Soccer Rules book (available on the Forms page of our site).
  • Do not post questions regarding issues of referee judgement.
  • Do not post specific game details ( i.e. home team, match date, etc.) with your question, if your question happens to be about something you saw during an intercollegiate soccer game.
All questions are subject to editorial review. This is offered as a service to NISOA membership for educational purposes, with the expressed understanding that only the NCAA Soccer Secretary-Rules Editor (Ken Andres) can provide an official rule interpretation.

428 Responses to “Ask A Rules Question”

  1. James Wuey says:

    It a goalkeeper is treated for an injury on the field does the player have to leave the field or are they allowed to stay since they are the goalkeeper?
    I know field players must leave the field when treated by a trainer

    • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

      James: The keeper may be treated on the field. See Rule A.R. If the injured player is the goalkeeper, may the player remain in the game and be treated on the field of play? RULING: Yes

  2. R. Bruce Lavery says:

    Rule for 2017 for substitutions. Can player reenter the match in 1st half if he is sub out? Can he come back in 2nd half of match?

    Thank you

    • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

      Bruce: First, the quick answer to your question is: Any player, provided he/she is eligible (example, has not been ejected, concussion, bleeding etc.) substituted for in the first half can “come back” in the second (and OT periods) half. Further, that player is allowed one reentry in the second period only. Note: There are exceptions to the rule (example injury caused by an opponent that is cautioned or ejected for the act. Second, I recommend you read the entirety of Rules 3.6.1 (Filed Players) and 3.6.2 Goalkeeper (copied below) for full understanding of the rule.
      3.6 Re-entry Conditions, Restrictions, Exceptions
      3.6.1 Field Players. With reference to periods of play, substitutions are permitted as follows:
      First half: no re-entry.
      Second half: one re-entry.
      First overtime period: no re-entry.
      Second overtime period: no re-entry.
      A.R. 3.6.1.a. May a player who is replaced in the first overtime period re-enter the game in the second overtime period? RULING: Yes.
      A.R. 3.6.1.b. A player does not start the second half but later enters the game and subsequently is substituted for. May that player re-enter the game in the second half? RULING: Yes.
      3.6.2 Goalkeepers. With reference to periods of play, substitutions are permitted as follows: First half: One re-entry. Second half: One re-entry. First overtime period: One re-entry. Second overtime period: One re-entry.
      A.R. 3.6.2. A goalkeeper is replaced by a substitute during the first half or an overtime period, remains on the field as a field player and later is replaced by a substitute. During the same period, the coach instructs the original goalkeeper to substitute for the current goalkeeper. RULING: Illegal. Once the original goalkeeper changes positions, the rule for that position (for example, midfielder) applies. A player who has not yet entered the game may substitute (that is, one re-entry) for the goalkeeper as per Rule 3.6.1.

  3. Patty says:

    If a goalkeeper goes down with a potential head injury, what are the rules about stopping play?

    • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

      Patty: First, I suggest if you refer to our reply to Bruce Lavery it will lead you to the answers set forth in Rule 3.6. Second, the primary rule pertaining to treating an injured goalkeeper is: A.R. If the injured player is the goalkeeper, may the player remain in the game and be treated on the field of play? RULING: Yes.
      Second, because the injury involves a potential concussion Rule comes into play:Rule reads: Bleeding, blood on uniform or signs of concussion: Summon medical personnel to escort or remove the player(s) from the field of play. The player(s) may re-enter the game after the injury has been properly treated,the uniform has been evaluated by appropriate medical personnel for potential issues and changed, if necessary, before return to participation and permission has been granted by the referee. (See Rule
      In other words, if the concussion is determined to be moderate AND concussion treatment protocol can be successfully performed within a reasonable period of time, it can occur during such on field stoppage of play. If prolonged treatment is judged necessary, the referee should judge that Rule takes precedence over Rule A.R. and instruct medical personnel to remove the player and resume play. .

      • Patty says:

        Thanks for the quick reply. My question had more to do with stopping the game when the goalkeeper is down more than if the injured goalkeeper can return to play. I’m thinking it is referee’s judgment, so perhaps not covered by the official rules. I saw this situation in two different games this weekend, with two completely different decisions and outcomes, so I was wondering if there was any official ruling on the issue.

        In the first case, the goalkeeper blocked a shot, and the opposing team had possession, when she doubled over as if she was hit in the stomach. The referees stopped the play and the sideline ref indicated that the rule was to stop the play when it’s the goalkeeper injured. She was NOT on the ground.

        In the second case, the goalkeeper came out to kick a ball and collided with an opposing player (and the ball) and went down grabbing her head, and stayed down. Play continued with the keeper on the ground and the opposing team managed to get possession and scored a goal. It was completely opposite, and a much more dangerous scenario than the first case.

        So I guess my question really is, is there a rule about stopping play for an injury or is it just at the discretion of the referee?

        • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

          Patty: Quick answer: Other than common or uncommon SENSE there is no language in the injury rules about STOPPING PLAY. Your meticulous structuring of this situation is laudable and may lead to what the Rules Committee may include in the 2018-19 rules book as The Patty Rule. The reason being that nowhere in the rules pertaining to injuries does it actually state the referee is to blow the whistle and suspend play. I hasten to say such directives are used in other rules such as: “A caution is a formal disciplinary action requiring specific procedures to be followed by the referee including STOPPING THE CLOCK, SUSPENDING PLAY…” and, with reference to actions pertaining to artificial noisemakers as in “…5.6.9 SUSPEND THE GAME, STOP the clock etc….” HOWEVER, there is no such language in the injury items. Having said that, there is an assumption that such procedures presuppose the referee whistle to suspend the game and summon “medical personnel”. I repeat: Common sense suggests the same. Todd Abraham is NISOA’s Director of Instruction and a collaborative member of NISOA’s “ASK” service and may weigh in to what is included in NISOA training programs. In the end, any competent referee will most assuredly blow the whistle and suspend play IMMDEIATELY should a player succumb to the situations you have described.

          • Todd Abraham Todd Abraham says:

            I’ll come back to your original question with the benefit of the perspective of the follow-ups and Cliff’s notes.

            The NCAA rules are very explicit about a potential head injury:
   Bleeding, blood on uniform or signs of concussion: Summon medical personnel to escort or remove the player(s) from the field of play. The player(s) may re-enter the game after the injury has been properly treated, the uniform has been evaluated by appropriate medical personnel for potential issues and changed, if necessary, before return to participation and permission has been granted by the referee. (See Rule

            Additionally, Appendix C – CONCUSSIONS states:
            Game officials are often in a best position to observe student-athletes up-close, and may be the first to notice the unusual behaviors that indicate a concussion may be present. Student-athletes with a suspected concussion must be removed from competition so that a medical examination can be conducted by the
            primary athletics healthcare provider (i.e., athletic trainer or team physician). Importantly, a game official is not expected to evaluate a student-athlete. Instead, if an official notices any unusual behavior, the official should stop play immediately and call an injury time-out so that an appropriate medical examination can be conducted. A simple guide to the official’s role is: “When in doubt, call an injury time-out.”

            Player safety is always paramount – in any situation – ensure the safety of a player. All of our training and the NCAA Rules require the game to be suspended when player safety is in jeopardy

            • Patty says:

              I guess an injury time-out was eventually called, but it was approximately 20 seconds after the keeper went down and the other team had a chance to gain possession of the ball and score. In my opinion (and the opinion of many other people there) the keeper’s safety was definitely in jeopardy with players running around her kicking the ball while she is laying on the ground holding her head.

              Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. I would love to have something added to the rule book about suspending play immediately when a player goes down with a potential head injury. I realize that may sometimes require a judgment call, but in this case anyone watching the game (and I’m actually not convinced that the officials were watching the game) could see the impact and the player immediately going down as potentially a serious injury.

              Again thank you to you and Cliff for so thoroughly answering this question.

          • Patty says:

            Thank you very much for your answer. It would be very good to see the rules changed, because obviously common sense doesn’t prevail all the time, and certainly didn’t in this case. At least if there were a rule, the goal could have been challenged and an official complaint against the official could be backed up. Instead, in this case, we have an official who apparently listed to the opposing team’s coach encouraged play to continue, and the girls celebrated with jumps in the air and high fives afterward, all while the keeper is still on the ground. The keeper was evaluated and has a concussion. I am planning to file a complaint against the officials, as well as the coach and team for unsportsmanlike conduct, but how to I make a formal suggestion to the Rules Committee?

            • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

              Thank you, Patty, for the further details on what has to be remedied with both the local referee’s association and the national rules committee. As Todd has pointed out the procedure is part of the instructions in the Appendix but need to be a point of emphasis in the rule itself. Because of Todd’s peerless dedication to detail I assure you it will be part of his instructional clinics for national referees as well as the association in general. As to your question re a report in the game in question you need to contact the local assignor and ask where to send it. I wish you well.

  4. Phillip says:

    We are having discussions on when the ball is in play in the following instance. There is a shot on goal, the keeper catches the shot. This keeper is a drop kicker (punter). It’s the end of the game, he drops the ball, ball hits the ground and at the same time a player from the opposing team sticks his toe in and knocks the ball to his teammate who scores. Meanwhile the goalie swings and misses. Is this allowable? Once the keeper lets the ball hit the ground, is the ball in play? Please advise? Thank you!

    • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

      Phillip: Simple answer: The actions of the field player are not permitted. See Rules 12.2.12 Interfering with the goalkeeper or impeding the goalkeeper in ANY manner until he or she releases the ball, or kicking or attempting to kick the ball when it is in the goalkeeper’s possession; A.R.12.2.12. A player raises his or her foot as the goalkeeper kicks the ball from his or her hands. RULING: Indirect free kick.A.R. May a player stand in front of the goalkeeper during a corner kick without trying to play the ball but merely trying to stop the goalkeeper from playing it? RULING: No. Indirect free kick from the point of infraction.A.R. May an opposing player ever take a position in front of a goalkeeper who is in possession of the ball? RULING: No

  5. Nalina says:

    How do you determine if a goalkeeper has possession of the ball and when the ball is fair play for any player. For example if the ball is in the box after a corner kick or free kick and everyone is scrambling for the ball what constitutes the ball being in the keeper’s possession?

    • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

      Nalina: The primary answers to your question concerning goalkeeper possession can be found in Rule 3.3 Goalkeeper Privileges: Within his or her penalty area, the goalkeeper has certain privileges not given
      to any other player. These privileges include:
      3.3.1 Handling. The goalkeeper may catch, carry, strike or propel the ball with the hands or arms; and
      3.3.2 Possession. The act of distributing the ball after control (for example, dropping the ball for the kick, parrying, throwing, etc.); Tossing the ball into the air and re-catching it as long as the ball is
      released into play within six seconds; or Pinning the ball to the ground
      There are additional goalkeeper references in Rule 12.1+ you may want to review.

  6. Jim Clevenger says:

    NAIA match – Throw in for defense is unchallenged by opponent and thrown directly to a teammates head who then heads it to the keeper and the keeper takes control of the ball with his hands.
    Would this fall under rule 12.3.3 as trickery?

    • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

      Jim: No. Albeit trickery is involved with reference to Rule 12.3.3 (see below) Rule A.R. addresses the issue you raise. May a teammate, while defending against a corner kick, head the ball in the direction of the goalkeeper, who receives it with his or her hands? RULING: Yes. In short, a ball thrown to the head of a teammate is allowed inasmuch as it is in play – whether or not it is challenged by an opponent. The exception is set forth in 12.3.3 Trickery. A player may pass the ball to his or her own goalkeeper using the head, knee, chest, etc. However, if a player uses trickery in any form (for instance, flicking the ball with the foot in order to head it to the goalkeeper), the player is guilty of unsporting behavior. The referee shall caution the player and award the opposing team an indirect free kick from the point of infraction.

      • Jim Clevenger says:

        The corner kick example wouldn’t be a good comparison since the ball was originally played by an opponent. The problem that I see with this is the intent to circumvent the rules. The players know that they cannot throw the ball in directly to the keepers hands so instead they intentionally throw it to a teammates head and then the keeper plays it with their hands. Wouldn’t this be the same as a player flicking the ball up with his foot to a teammates head and then the keeper playing it with their hands? In 12.3.3 the example makes it sound as if the same player is flicking the ball to their head so the question then becomes if it is allowed if you involve more than one player?

        • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

          Jim: The player flicking the ball to his/her head is the one who initiates the action from his/her own foot to the head thereby trickery. A ball arriving at a player’s head from any other source – example a corner kick, a kick passed from another player – his/her own or an opponent, or any other source from the run of play – can, legally, be headed to the goalkeeper. Another way to view it? Just add an opponent running at the player who then heads to the goalkeeper and it is not trickery.

  7. Tom says:


    Are players on the bench REQUIRED to wear a uniform while sitting on the bench? If they are permitted to wear a top other than a uniform, must it have their jersey number for identification purposes? We have a few team that want to wear training tops while on the bench and change just before they are subbed in.

    Tom Wilde

    • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

      Tom: Other than players on the field of play there is no rule addressing what can be worn or not worn while on the bench. While warming up to enter the game players are instructed to wear colors in contrast with both teams. Also, players wearing visible undergarments should be the same color as the outer garments and all players dressed alike. See Rule 4.

  8. Malcom says:

    Team A has a sub who has checked in and is waiting at the midfield line to enter the game. The ball was played and missed be a player on the field so it is getting ready to roll out of bounds. Before the ball crosses the touch line the checked in sub touches the ball while still in play. Would the restart be a dropped ball or indirect free kick?

    • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

      Malcolm: The player had checked in but had not yet been beckoned by the referee so therefore was an illegal player. By stepping in to play the ball the player was guilty of unsporting conduct and should be cautioned. See Rule
      5.6.3 Caution any player, coach or other bench personnel for misconduct or unsporting behavior (persistent infringement on any of the rules of the game) and, if the behavior persists, eject that individual from the game. Play is restarted with an indirect free kick from the point of the infraction by the opposing team.

  9. Klaus Staefe says:

    4.2.5 Players warming up outside the coaching and team areas shall wear colored jerseys/vests that distinguish them from all other field players.

    4.2.5 as stated players shall wear ….when outside of the team area.

    With many of the women teams players are standing up inside their respective team area, shall they also not be wearing different color shirts/vest? Should they also not be just hanging around the neck and should be properly worn?

    • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

      Thank you, Klaus, for your question. Rule 4.2.5 is correct regarding players – male or female – wearing different colored vests/jerseys while warming up outside the coaching and team area. There are no rules with reference to what players, coaches or other bench personnel shall wear while on the bench or in the team area other that what is stated in Rule 4.1.1 As to the problem of players standing in the coaching and team area the only directive given is “Coaches, players and bench personnel shall remain inside their respective coaching and team areas” What is not spelled out – which may be of some help to you – is the “other causes” option which the referee has discretionary power to enact (apply?) whenever the unwritten issue occurs/exists and interferes with his/her ability to manage the game as required. In other words, you have the authority to tell them they must be seated and they must wear their warm-up vests as opposed to slinging them around their necks. .

  10. Dan O,Keefe says:

    What is the NCAA policy For post season competition use of artifical noisemakers. ? —- Does the 2016- 2017 NCAA rule 5.6.9 apply in post season play. are noisemakers legal in post season play ?

    • Cliff McCrath1 C. Cliff McCrath says:

      Dan: The playing rules for postseason are the same as the regular season including those exceptions pertaining to card accumulation, tiebreakers, etc. These are contained in the 2016-17 playing rules. There are some differences example – limits re #s of players dressed for play, countdown to kickoff and what signage is allowed at the playing site. However, the GSA is the NCAA perssonel assigned to the site who will articulate any variations that are set forth in the professional handbook.

      • Dan O'Keefe says:

        Im not sure i understand, if its legal to do in season play, its legal in post season. I cant find a rule in the 16-17 rulebook on no use of noisemakers in post season play. am I correct? Thank You for your time.

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