By: John Van de Vaarst
The NFHS Rules Committee met in January to discuss various rules changes. The most significant change that was made dealt with Rule 11 – Offside. “A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent, who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save), is not considered to have gained an advantage.” The NFHS Rule Book is now the same as the NCAA Rule Book and FIFA Laws of the Game. Every interscholastic official must be clear on how to interpret this change. Previously, an attacking player who was in an offside position at the time that the ball was played by a teammate, could be penalized and ruled offside when the ball was deflected by or rebounded from a defender to the attacking player even though the defender tried to play the ball. The new rule changes this situation as the attacking player in an offside position when the ball was kicked by a teammate who gets a rebounded or deflected ball after it was deliberately played by the opponent (except from a deliberate save), is no longer offside and is not considered to have gained an advantage.
One example of the rule change would be if an attacking player plays the ball toward a teammate who is in an offside position (behind the defender) and the defender jumps to head the ball. The ball hits the defender’s head but he/she does not control it. The ball continues to the attacking player who was originally in the offside position. With this rule change the attacking player is no longer considered offside since the defender deliberately tried to play the ball.
Another example would be when an attacking player plays the ball toward a teammate who is in an offside position. The defender attempts to kick the ball to clear it away, but miss kicks the ball and it continues forward to the attacker who was initially in the offside position. The attacker receives the ball. This is legal since the offside was negated when the defender miss kicked the ball.
Officials must be in good position and recognize the rule change whenever an offside infringement may occur. In the dual system of officiating the lead referee must be even with the second to the last defender to observe the play as it develops. In a diagonal system of control, the assistant referee must be even with the second to the last defender to properly observe the play and if necessary signal for the offside. Once the lead official or assistant referee is in the proper position, the official must determine if there is an offside position , offside infringement or the offside has been eliminated by the above described rule change. The best mechanic when this situation occurs is to delay the decision for a moment to observe what happens next. The lead official or assistant referee must not indicate offside as soon as the ball is played. Note: this was what was previously taught. The lead official or assistant referee must wait to determine if a defender attempts to play the ball and it continues to the attacker in the offside position. If this occurs the play should continue and no offside indicated. By delaying the decision the official is able to make the proper call. If the lead official or assistant referee signaled too early, a potential scoring opportunity may be whistled dead. A good rule of thumb is better to be late and accurate with the call than early and wrong.
Officials must remember how to interpret this important new rule change. Also, it may be good at the beginning of the season to make sure coaches are aware of the new interpretation so that they do no expect an offside call and what is now a fair play.