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Soccer panel adds teeth to card system

By Gary Brown

The NCAA Men’s and Women’s Soccer Rules Committee has authorized a card repository system that will provide an official record of men’s and women’s players in all three divisions who are required to miss games because of disciplinary action.

The new process, which still must be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel later this spring before being implemented for the 2012 season, is primarily intended to improve efficiencies in tracking soccer’s complex card system, which until now has been done only on an ad hoc basis or provided in year-end reports.

The soccer rules committee is requiring official scorekeepers to send box scores (which include cards given during that game) to the NCAA statistics staff, who will track cards as any other statistic. Game officials also are required to report ejections (red cards) issued during a given game to the NCAA Soccer Central Hub (, which in turn prompts notification from the NCAA national office to the relevant conferences and the affected team’s athletics director about the suspension.

“Between what’s entered by the official scorekeeper and the red card reports we get from the referees, we should have cards covered,” said Ken Andres, the secretary-rules editor for soccer.

Andres said the committee has talked about the idea of a repository before, but that technology and resources had always been an issue. “We’ve now reached the point that between what the statistics staff has been doing and what the Arbiter Sports website can be doing, we can realize greater efficiencies without taxing human resources,” he said.

An ancillary benefit of the new system is its sportsmanship component. While cards are reported in box scores and in officials’ reports after games, suspensions for yellow-card accumulations or for red cards have been left for individual schools to administer. Most teams honor the rules as written, but the committee has learned of occasional instances in which players who are supposed to sit out games either do not or delay their suspensions for an easier opponent.

“Over the years there have been a few clearly premeditated instances – not many, but enough to be a concern – where somebody just had to play in that next big game,” Andres said. “And if they didn’t get caught until after the fact, the attitude was, ‘Whoops, we’re sorry, we’ll sit him for the next match,’ and it just so happens that the next match is against an easier team.

“That’s not prevalent behavior by any means, but in the end, coaches are responsible for who they put on the field.”

Accordingly, under the new system, if a player who is due to miss a game because of cards does not serve the suspension, that game will be forfeited and the player will be required to miss the next two games. In addition, the head coach will be required to miss an equal number of games. 

“The message is that if you as a coach use an illegal player, you’re doubling the penalty for the player and you’re suffering the same penalty,” Andres said.

For years, soccer has relied on its card system to help regulate on-field behavior. Referees have the authority to issue yellow cards (also called “cautions”) to players for rough play, persistent infringement on the rules of play, taunting, incidental profanity and other violations. The accumulation of yellow cards over the course of a season can also result in game suspensions.

Officials also may issue red cards, or immediate ejections, to players who commit more egregious infractions (such as serious foul play, abusive language or an intentional handball). Those also carry game suspensions.

Because of the card system’s complexity – and because until now there hasn’t been a formal reporting requirement or collection agency – schools have been on their own for keeping track of cards and administering penalties.

“We believe the new process takes advantage of the resources available that will make tracking cards more transparent and more efficient,” Andres said. “And the added sanctions for violating the rules will make people think twice before playing an ineligible player.”

Other highlights

Among other rules changes the soccer rules committee is proposing for next year is one that gives the referee more discretion in the last five minutes of the game to manage the clock.

Specifically, the referee can determine whether to keep the clock moving if the team that is trailing commits a violation that warrants a card. Previously, the clock stopped while the official issued the card. However, the rules committee learned that the losing team sometimes uses this tactic to stop the clock in end-of-game situations.

Conversely, if the team that is ahead purposely delays the restart after the card is given (as tactic to keep the clock moving), the referee can stop the clock.

The committee also changed the throw-in rule for instances in which the ball does not reach the field of play. Previously if the ball didn’t advance to the field of play, the player was allowed to retake the throw. The committee has changed that outcome.

“We found it interesting that the only time people make these sorts of throws is late in the game when their team is leading,” Andres said. “Now if you make a foul throw, too bad. You lose it.”

The committee also added excessive celebration to the list of infractions that can merit a yellow card during play.

In addition, committee members addressed technology issues, such as voting to allow players to wear technological devices during games. (Teams have begun to use such devices to track players’ heart rates and measure other physical effects for training purposes and to help coaches gage substitution patterns and other aspects of the game.) The data gleaned from these devices, though, may not be used during the game or intervals, unless verified as medically necessary.

The committee also agreed to allow coaches and staff to use electronic aids (for example, electronic tablets and dry-erase boards) on the sidelines during games. However, the rules still continue to prohibit coaches from communicating with anyone via electronic messaging devices or phones during the game.