The NCAA Rule 5.4.3 on Referee Jurisdiction states that when the referee observes a foul that is not to be penalized, the referee shall call out the words “play on” and signal accordingly to indicate that the foul has been acknowledged. However, if the advantage does not materialize, the referee shall then blow the whistle and award a free kick. The NCAA rules do not specify if the referee is permitted to continue with play when a foul (by the offending/defending team) has occurred that involves the issuing of a yellow card. Allowing play to continue when a red card offense is involved is not recommended due to the seriousness of the offense and the fact that retaliation may result. In the case of clear opportunity to score a goal, the referee may consider applying advantage despite a red card offense being committed. Smart refereeing and a sense or “feel” for the game is required to apply advantage when a yellow card offense is involved.
As an extra point of emphasis, the overuse of advantage to sell of decision or to make us look good is not appropriate and can lead to confusion amongst players and coaches to the foul recognition level of the referee.
There are many factors referees must consider when applying advantage such as:
- Possession of ball. Active and credible control of the ball by the attacking team/player. There can be no advantage clause without possession of the ball by the attacking team.
- Potential for attack. The ability to continue a credible, immediate and dangerous attack on the opponent’s goal.
- Personnel. The skill of the attackers and the attacking team’s numerical advantage in front of the ball.
- Proximity to opponent’s goal. Relates to the closeness to goal. The closer to the opponent’s goal (less distance to goal), the more effective the advantage and the greater the potential.
In this first clip, the referee identifies the foul, scans the field and recognizes the potential for attack due to possession of ball and personnel which then correctly indicates advantage. The point of the advantage rule is to not reward a team for fouling an opponent and to avoid punishing a team that has been fouled. This is often a very difficult call, even for the best referees, because they have to evaluate the circumstances very quickly and reach a decision.
In this clip, the referee again identifies the foul, scans the field and recognizes the possession of the ball is still maintained, potential for attack and proximity to goal exists going into the attacking third of the field, and with a numerical advantage having multiple teammates on the attack.
As a potential advantage situation unfolds, the referee must very quickly evaluate the situation and then decide if the attacking team will have a greater advantage from maintaining possession of the ball or from a foul being called. This decision must be made in a matter of a few seconds. By using the “wait and see” technique (delay making the call for a few seconds) the referee can also evaluate whether the advantage has materialized. In other words, by taking a few quick seconds, the referee can assess whether continuation of play or the whistling of a foul is more advantageous to the team in possession of the ball.
At higher levels, the referees have more opportunity to apply advantage from all areas of the field due to the technical abilities of the players and their ability to maintain a clear, immediate, effective and positive attack toward goal. As the skill set of the players decreases, referees must consider whether the players and/or team can mount a credible attack from the application of advantage. This is certainly the case the further from goal the foul leading to advantage is committed. Referees are at liberty to employ the ‘wait-and-see’ tactic before applying the advantage rule, waiting no longer than 5 seconds (usually less). However, once the referee allows ‘play-on’, he cannot recall the decision after the advantage has been executed and lost.