I guess I missed the Feb. 2009 Directive on “Handling the Ball”. I suppose that’s a good thing, because one section seems to directly contradict all my training as well as Section 12.9 of “Advice to Referees”.

In the Directive, one of the things the referee is supposed to consider in determining a handling offense is “Did the player ‘benefit’?”.

My understanding is that whether or not a player benefits from incidental arm/ball contact is irrelevant; it is either deliberate or not, and what happens afterwards is immaterial. “Advice” states unequivocally: “The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement.”

Can you please clarify? If I’m misunderstanding the directive (as others have too), what is it supposed to be conveying?

USSF answer (November 2, 2009):
You would seem to be misreading Advice 12.9 and confusing its text with that of the Directive, rather like confusing apples with applesauce. They speak of two different things.

Advice 12.9 addresses the “benefit” an attacking player might achieve in the sense of attack, while the Directive addresses the “benefit” a defending player might achieve in the sense of foiling an opponent’s attack.

The Directive on “Handling the Ball” does not suggest that benefit of a player’s action should be the sole point to decide if a ball was handled intentionally or not. The “Directive” states that the referee needs to decide first if a handling the ball situation involved (1) a player “making himself bigger” or (2) if the player’s arm was in an unnatural position. The third criterion (3) involves the result of the action. The first sentence is of (3) is key (quoting from the “Directive”): “In considering all the ‘signs’ described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player’s (usually a defender) action.” Possible “benefits” for defender or attacker are suggested. However, these benefits are to examined only in the context of the first two criteria. In other words, if the defender “made himself bigger” and was able to play the ball the observed benefit of foiling the attack provides confidence the the handling of the ball was intentional. If the referee is still unsure after considering these 3 criteria additional factors (reaction time, distance to ball) can be applied.

In considering all the “signs” described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player’s (usually a defender) action. Did the defender’s action (handling of the ball) deny an opportunity (for example, a pass or shot on goal) that would have otherwise been available to the opponent? Did the offending player gain an unfair tactical advantage from contact with the hand/arm which enabled him to retain possession? In other words: Did the player benefit by putting his hand/arm in an “unnatural position?” The referee needs to be able to quickly calculate the result of the player’s action to determine whether an offense has been committed.

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