By: Todd Abraham, NISOA Senior Director of Instruction
There has been some confusion around when a substitute becomes a player and what are the team’s options regarding “pulling a player back” from substituting. The Rules in this situation are clear, however, they require diligence regarding mechanics from the referee crew, specifically, the referee’s responsibility to beckon a substitute onto the field (or in the last 5 minutes when the leading team substitutes, stop the clock). The situation around substitution procedure is covered in Rule 3.7 and the associated Approved Rulings:
3.7 Reporting Into the Game
3.7.1 A substitute shall report to the scorekeeper’s table (or nearest assistant referee if the official scorekeeper is in the press box), be ready to enter the game before the time when substitutions are allowed, remain at the scorekeeper’s table (or near the halfway line) and be beckoned by the referee before entering the field of play. Exception: After a goal is scored or between periods, provided it is done in a timely manner, substitutes are not required to “be ready” before the period begins or the kickoff to restart the game. Note: It is suggested that a horn or noise-producing instrument with a distinctly different tone from the referee’s signaling device be used to facilitate the substitution process.
A.R. 3.7.1.a. Shall the player entering the game remain at the halfway line until the departing player exits the field? RULING: No. The player may enter the field when beckoned by the referee.
A.R. 3.7.1.b. Shall the departing player exit the field at the halfway line? RULING: The player shall exit the field at the halfway line nearest the coaching and playing areas unless the departing player is injured and cannot leave the field unassisted.
A.R. 3.7.1.c. When does a player become a field player of record? RULING: During the first 85 minutes of the game and during both overtime periods: At the moment the referee beckons the player(s) onto the field. In the last five minutes of the second regulation period: When the referee signals the clock to be stopped. (See Rule 188.8.131.52.)
A.R. 3.7.1.d. Does a player(s) have to enter the field of play after the referee has beckoned or signaled the clock to be stopped for a substitution(s)? RULING: No. However, the player(s) shall be charged with one substitution entry.
A.R. 3.7.1.e. Multiple players have reported to the scorekeeper (or assistant referee) to enter the game as substitutes. The referee beckons or signals to stop the clock (last five minutes of second period, if the leading team is substituting) and the coach decides to hold one player back. Is that player charged with a substitution entry? RULING: Yes.
A key to when a substitute becomes a player is determined by when the referee beckons the substitute to enter the game, NOT when the horn is sounded or when the alternate official notifies the referee over a communication device. It is therefore critical that the referee visibly beckons the substitute onto the field. It is that action of visibly beckoning a substitute that causes him / her to become a player. Until the referee beckons the player, the team may decide to hold that player back from substituting. Once the referee beckons that player is considered to have entered the game. If he / she does not enter the game, it is still considered one entry and is subject to the reentry restrictions. When the horn sounds for the substitution, the referee should immediately beckon the substitute onto the field.
Diligence is also required in the last five minutes of the second half when the rules (and mechanics) are slightly different should the team leading the in the score choose to substitute. In the last five minutes when the leading team substitutes, the clock MUST be stopped. When the referee signals for the clock to be stopped, the substitute becomes a player. The approved mechanics for this situation is that when the horn is sounded indicating a substitution, the referee should recognize if the leading team is substituting and signal (per the approved signal in Appendix A) for the clock to be stopped, then the referee should beckon the substitute onto the field. The substitute becomes a player when the clock is stopped.
If a team decides to hold back a substitute after being beckoned, as mentioned, that player is considered to have entered the game. There is no requirement for a player to leave the game. Player A12 reports to the scorer and is ready to enter the match for A2. Team A decides to “hold back” A12. A12 is charged with an entry, however, A2 does NOT have to leave the field. A player continues to be a player until he / she leaves the field.
To summarize, a substitute becomes a player when beckoned by the referee (or when the clock is stopped by the referee in the last five minutes of the second half and the leading team is substituting). It is therefore critical that the referee displays the correct mechanics.