Ill-Advised Officiating Assignments

PJ, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:

Under what circumstance should a 15 yo referee his younger brother’s soccer team?  Is this putting undue pressure on the ref, especially someone that inexperienced?  I’m not saying he would always “rig the game,” but it’s hard for him to process his mates calling him by name to give penalties, free kicks, etc. Sounds like it should be something strongly avoided if not forbidden altogether.

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

We’re going to take a risky guess that you are British (based on your use of the word “mates”).  If this is correct, please note that we cannot and do not provide answers or guidance based on how other soccer organizations outside the US implement the Laws of the Game (see our statement of “principles” on the “About” tab).  If you live in the US, then read on because everything that follows is focused on IFAB/USSF protocols.

There are two levels at which the issues you raise can be approached.  One is the matter of age itself.  Persons can be certified at the lowest grade level as young as 12 though one or two years older than this is not infrequently required by many state and/or local soccer organizations.  Theoretically, therefore, a 15 year old Referee could have been officiating for as long as nearly 4 years — a length of time which could certainly lead to more than sufficient experience if the young Referee was able and willing to be assigned to lots of games each year.  Then there is the associated issue of “age difference” — in other words, someone at age 15 might well be more than adequately experienced to officiate, say, a U-12 match but would almost certainly not be assigned to, say, any match involving players who themselves are 15 and older.  These rules, if they exist, are almost always set at the local soccer organization level, by individual assignors, by the state association for upper level games, or even by the youth official’s parents.  When and where they exist, they must be followed of course. Note that you didn’t specify in your scenario how much younger the team’s players were than the 15 year old assigned to referee the match.

However, the second level at issue here doesn’t involve age but, rather, potential conflicts of interest.  Indeed, the USSF Administrative Handbook, in discussing ethical issues for Referees and Assignors, particularly notes that all officials are required to avoid conflicts of interest — and, short of betting on the outcome of a match, we doubt that there is any situation which is more clearly a conflict of interest than having a family connection with the one or more of the players or team officials being officiated!  Is it officially banned by name?  No, but it is clearly a circumstance to be avoided, either in offering or in accepting an assignment.

Most assignors routinely gather information from referees who want to receive games from that assignor and, routinely, questions are asked about whether there are any teams with which the referee is related to by family. Occasionally, a team might be approaching game time with no official in sight and might plead with a parent or spectator who also happens to be a certified official to “do the game” because, without an official, the game cannot be held (the game becomes a scrimmage at best).  We advise anyone who might be willing to volunteer to disclose fully their relationship with anyone associated with one of the teams and specifically to get agreement by both coaches that they accept the volunteer despite the unusual circumstances.

By the way, these two issues (age and conflict of interest) can merge when the Referee, no matter how well trained and experienced he or she might be, is the same age as the players being officiated.  At the same age, the issue is not so much experience as it is familiarity.  Unless it is a tournament far away from home (the players or the referee), it is quite likely that the Referee might know many of the players, not just of one team but of many teams, due to school, social, or other connections.  This is why tournaments will almost always specifically exclude from assignment any Referee who is in the same age grouping as an entire set of teams.


In USSF if a second AR is not present for the game how should we proceed with the game and should we collect all the money or only the money for the center and AR1?

Answer (September 6, 2014):
This answer is based on USSF historical documents and the Laws of the Game. The Federation, in its infinite wisdom, appears to have ceased publishing this information, possibly using the same reasoning used by the International Football Association Board, the folks who bring us the Laws of the Game:” Everyone knows that!”

Here is the appropriate extract from page 39 of the Referee Administrative Handbook (2010-11 edition):

Systems of Officiating Outdoor Soccer Games
The Laws of the Game recognize only one system for officiating soccer games, namely the diagonal system of control (DSC), consisting of three officials – one referee and two assistant referees. All competitions sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation require the use of this officiating system. (Certain competitions will use a 4th Official.)In order to comply with the Laws of the Game which have been adopted by the National Council of U.S. Soccer, all soccer games sanctioned directly or indirectly by member organizations of the U.S. Soccer Federation must employ the diagonal system. As a matter of policy, the U.S. Soccer Referee Committee prefers the following alternatives in order of preference:
1.One Federation referee and two Federation referees1 as assistant referees (the standard ALL organizations should strive to meet).
2.One Federation referee, one Federation referee as an assistant referee and one club linesman*who is unrelated to either team and not registered as a referee. (Only if there are not enough Federation referees as stated in 1, above).
3.One Federation referee, and two club linesmen* who are unrelated to either team and not registered as referees, acting as club linesmen, (only if there are not enough Federation referees as stated in 1 or 2, above).
4.One Federation referee and two club linesmen* who are not registered Federation referees and who are affiliated with the participating teams, (only if there are not enough Federation referees as stated in 1, 2 or 3, above).
5.One Federation referee, only if there are not enough federation referees or if the club linesmen are unavailable as stated in 1, 2, 3, or 4 above and one referee is appropriate for the level of competition.

Member organizations and their affiliates should make every effort to assist in recruiting officials so that enough Federation referees will be available to permit use of the diagonal officiating system for ALL of their competitions.

1 In all cases, the Assistant Referee may be Grade 12 if the game level is appropriate for that assignment* Club linesmen (not registered as Federation Referees) are limited to calling in and out of bounds only

* If only two officials turn up at the field, one must be the referee (with the whistle), while the other becomes an assistant referee (outside the field with the flag). They split the field between them, but only one may make the final decisions and blow the whistle.

The upshot of all this is that you must try to find at least a club linesman to work one line, who must be provided by the home team. As to pay, you should collect only the pay for the two assigned officials. The home team MUST provide the club linesman.


I am on the board of a recreational, youth soccer club in {deleted]. We would like to put sponsor’s names on our referees’ jerseys. It has been pointed out that the USSF Referee Handbook contains the following regarding uniforms.

“Logos, Emblems and Badges: Only manufacturer’s logos and U.S. Soccer approved badges and/or emblems may be visible on the referee uniform.”

Does this also forbid sponsor’s names, and does this apply to our local club or only official USSF events?

USSF answer (August 19, 2011):
The Legal Department of US Soccer replies: “We do not believe it is appropriate for referees to have any sponsor logos on their uniforms other than the manufacturer’s mark. If a referee is “sponsored”, it gives the wrong impression about their independence.”


What is the grade level of an entry level referee instructor, assignor, and/or director

USSF answer (July 18, 2011):
There are three sorts of entry-level referees. The first is Grade 9, recreational referees; the second is Grade 12, assistant referees; the third is Referees Grade 8.

Instructors come in three varieties: Recreational Youth Instructors, Grade 11, are allowed to teach only the Recreational Referee Course (Grade 9) only. Associate Instructors, Grade 9, may teach under the direction of a senior instructor. Referee Instructors, Grade 7, may teach the full entry-level course under the direction of a senior instructor and have completed a course in ITIP (Instructional Theory INto Practice).

If by “directors” you mean assessors, there is only one entry-level grade, Grade 9, an Associate Assessor. If by “directors” you mean something else, we are at a loss to define it.


Scenario: A three man crew is assigned to the match. Center official notifies the two AR’s by phone that he will be late to the match 15 minutes before scheduled kick off time. AR’s notify both coaches and both coaches want the game to start on time, therefore AR1 is now the center with AR2 on the line and no club AR for the other line. After 20 minutes, the center official show up and takes a flag and becomes the other AR. During a stoppage of play at about 25 minutes, the assigned center trades places with acting center.

Question: Is this approved procedure or should the acting center official remained the center official for the match?

USSF answer (March 8, 2011):
Whoa! Let’s back off here and look at the real problem. Coaches have no say as to who referees their game, at least not in the game played under the Laws of the Game and under the aegis of the U. S. Soccer Federation. Nor can they insist on starting the game immediately if an official is late in arriving, particularly if that official has notified his/her fellow officials and given an arrival time. The game can wait those 15 minutes.

However, if there is some rule of the competition that requires games to start NOW and not a minute later than NOW, the officials may then work precisely as in your scenario.

As to the question itself, the answer is no, this is not an approved procedure in higher-level competitive soccer. Once a referee has begun a game in higher-level play, he or she cannot be “substituted out” for another. However, the procedure might well work in lower-level play.


My referee association recently requested referees for three scrimmage games this coming Sunday for U15/16B games. The assignor stated, “Duals requested for each game ….” I replied that I didn’t think we were allowed to officiate USSF games using a dual system. The reply I received was, “Scrimmages are allowed”. So my question is, can we use a dual system for “scrimmages”? Thanks for your assistance on this.

USSF answer (December 6, 2010):
As scrimmages, games between these teams could not be sanctioned by the Federation, even though all the teams and players are (theoretically) affiliated with US Youth Soccer. Because the games are not sanctioned, the referee may not be covered by USSF liability insurance, and that is a point that should be considered by every referee who is asked to officiate a non-affiliated game.

This is a matter to be decided by your state referee committee and perhaps even higher authority.


During our adult state cup our state instructor showed us page 37 of the 2010-2011 Referee Administrative Handbook, we were told that only the new style shirts (as shown) would be permitted for wear by USSF referees. Are the old style shirts on longer permitted? Also we were told that the three striped socks were not acceptable for wear anymore, the new “two stripe” sock along with the old “logo” sock are now the socks acceptable for wear.

Can we wear other badges with our new style shirts (special area badges, high school, college,)when not doing USSF sanctioned matches?

Can referee buy the MLS pro referee uniform or uniforms and do lower level games wearing them?

USSF answer (October 21, 2010):
We hope that you misunderstood the instructor, as there has been absolutely no change in the uniform requirements. The designs shown in the Referee Administrative Handbook (p. 37) are for the new design, but the old uniform may still be worn if it is presentable. Referees are still permitted to wear the three white-stripe sock or the black sock with the old U.S. Soccer Referee Department logo, as both are still USSF-approved.

As to wearing the uniform to officiate high school, college, or other competitions, referees must wear apparel that is approved for the competition in which they officiate. If there is no uniform requirement in a competition that is not affiliated with the United States Soccer Federation, then referees may wear what they like, as long as they do not bring dishonor on the uniform or themselves. The uniforms worn by the professional-league referees are NOT approved for any USSF-affiliated competition other than those professional leagues.

The FAQ posted on the USSF website regarding the newer OSI uniforms remains in effect, referees can still wear the old and the new uniforms:


I have been refereeing since I was 11 years old and have been to many Regional and ODP events. This is my 4th year of refereeing. I was curious if there is a way around the minimum age requirement on the Grade 7 Referee Status. You must be 17 to become this grade, but is there a way to get this age requirement disregarded if someone approves it? If so, would it be the state, region, or USSF who would approve it?

USSF answer (August 31, 2010):
The requirements for upgrade are set by the U.S. Soccer Federation Board of Directors or the U.S. Soccer Referee Committee. They are the only bodies that can make this change. Consult your state association for advice on this.


Evidently the Adidas referee jerseys are making it to the states and being sold at TJ Maxx for #25 each. See the discussion at [an internet referee board]. Referees are purchasing these jerseys with the intent of wearing them in USSF games. They will have enough extra jerseys for referees who don’t have the Adidas jerseys. Is there any reason that referees cannot wear the Adidas jerseys? I can see a lot of confusion if allowed, with referees being pressured to buy the Adidas jerseys or having to wear borrowed jerseys.

USSF answer (March 4, 2010):
The uniform sold by Official Sports International (OSI) is the official uniform for referees affiliated with the U. S. Soccer Federation. The standards for that uniform were established by the USSF Board of Directors and may not be changed by anyone else. The design sold by OSI must be worn to all games and tournaments affiliated with the Federation. If referees find another uniform that meets the same design standard, they may wear that uniform for their lower-level games. Unless the Adidas uniform meets those standards, it may not be worn for any affiliated games.

See the USSF Referee Administrative Handbook for a description and pictures of the only approved uniforms:

Standards of Dress and Appearance Official U.S. Soccer Federation Referee Uniform
Official Sports International (OSI) is the official supplier of referee uniforms to U.S. Soccer.
GOLD SHIRT: with black pinstripes (long or short sleeve)
ONE BADGE ONLY: U.S. SOCCER FEDERATION – WITH CURRENT YEAR (Securely fastened to shirt over left chest. The badge should be for the highest grade for which the referee is currently qualified)
BLACK CUFF: (on long sleeve shirt only) (no cuffs on short sleeves)
BLACK SHORTS: Bottom edge of shorts not less than 3 nor more than 7 inches above the top of the knee- cap.
BLACK SOCKS: with Federation referee crest
BLACK SHOES: (may have white manufacturers design) with black laces
Alternate Referee Uniforms
The following four shirts have been approved by the Federation as alternates that can be worn in case of color conflict. There is no order of preference among the alternate jerseys. The other parts of the referee uniform (shorts, socks, shoes) do not change if the referee wears an alternate shirt.
BLACK SHIRT with, BLACK COLLAR, and BLACK CUFFS (on long sleeve shirts only). RED SHIRT with, BLACK COLLAR, and BLACK CUFFS (on long sleeve shirts only). BLUE SHIRT with, BLACK COLLAR, and BLACK CUFFS (on long sleeve shirts only). GREEN SHIRT with, BLACK COLLAR, and BLACK CUFFS (on long sleeve shirts only).
Logos, Emblems and Badges: Only manufacturer’s logos and U.S. Soccer approved badges and/or emblems may be visible on the referee uniform.

Note: Older versions of the OSI uniform may be worn until they need to be replaced.


I’ve never been faced with this issue before in thousands of games with perhaps hundreds of referees.

I was the center referee in a U14 Boys game. During the game, I noticed my AR was substantially away from even with the second to last defender(STLD); even to the point where the STLD would be at midfield, my AR would be even with the defending team’s eighteen-yard line. 

I ran over during a stop in play and asked what was wrong, whether he could continue, etc. and was told in no uncertain terms that he “was fine and he could see offsides just fine”. I told him he needed to stay even with the second to last defender, and he just shrugged his shoulders and dismissed any more of the discussion.

At numerous points during the second half, even after I persistently pointed at him when a signal was necessary and he was out of position (e.g. ball goes over the goal line, he is standing with his feet wider than shoulder length at the eighteen as if stretching), he was never in position. It even got to the point where, if he WOULD signal for a player in an offside position, he would quickly snap the flag up and down and make no further signal. Or he would be chatting with the coach while active play was taking place mere yards from his touchline. He essentially was having a hissing fit on the sidelines for me calling him out for his poor performance, and doing whatever he wanted.

My question: what recourse does a center referee have to deal with a disruptive and possibly subversive Assistant Referee. During the game, after him telling me that he was just fine in seeing offsides from wherever he was, I considered asking him to recuse himself and leave the game. He was THAT disruptive, even to the point where minor mistakes I made (e.g. in signaling the end of the game with my whistle, upon blowing it the first time and holding my hands out, I blew the whistle out of my mouth and was forced to pick it up from the ground to finish the whistle signal – after this), I was in perfect position to witness this AR turn to the coach and mock me

USSF answer (October 29, 2009):
As stated in Law 6, “In the event of undue interference or improper conduct [by an assistant referee], the referee will relieve an assistant referee of his duties and make a report to the appropriate authorities.” You probably should have dismissed the AR at halftime. That way you could have appointed a club AR and take over the duties of the AR for offside.

In addition, considering the behavior of the AR in question, the referee in such a situation could also proceed against the AR under the terms of US Soccer Policy 531-10, Misconduct of a Game Official. The policy is contained in the Referee Administrative Handbook, which can be downloaded from the Instructional Materials section of the referee program pages at