I am concerned about teaching referees correctly, in accordance with the USSF’s current thinking, about Law 12 “Handles the ball Deliberately”. We have taught in the past that “gaining an advantage” from a ball that has hit the hand or arm makes no difference if the referee judged it wasn’t deliberate. And in fact the 2010 ATR (12.9) states that “The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement…. NOTE: In most cases in the Laws of the Game, the words “touch,” “play,” and “make contact with” mean the same thing. This is not true in the case of deliberate handling, where the touch, play, or contact by the offending player must be planned and deliberate.”

The Directives that came out in 2009 list as #3 Did the Player Benefit? I have taken this to refer for the first two points (1) “Making yourself Bigger” and (2) “Is the Arm or hand in an unnatural position”, and if the referee’s opinion was that it was not deliberate it did not matter if the player gained and advantage or benefit from the ball hitting his hand.

At a State Cup game the SYRA and I got into a discussion after a coach was told that advantage had no part in determining a handling call, he stated that now because of the 2009 Directive The player gaining a benefit should be whistled for handling. He has been in conferences and meetings that I have not so I wanted to be sure of the correct instructions (interpretations) that need to be taught to the referees.

USSF answer (November 19, 2010):
Despite superficial appearances to the contrary, we see no actual conflict between what is stated in the directive and what is said in the Advice to Referees. The third criterion in the Directive of February 2, 2009, Handling the Ball, is actually clear. However, the mention in that directive of “advantage” has absolutely nothing to do with the advantage we are familiar with from Law 5.

Criterion 3:

3. Did the player “benefit”?
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 offence has been committed.

The directive is speaking of a tactical advantage for the handling player, not the advantage invoked by the referee. It is similar in that way to the “gaining an advantage” referred to in Law 11 (Offside). In this sense, the directive addresses the “benefit” a defending player might achieve in the sense of foiling an opponent’s attack.

The criterion at issue here is a way of coming to terms with the word “deliberate” as applied to the handling foul. All other things being equal, we are far less likely to consider an act to be deliberate if we cannot divine any reason for it happening. If the hand makes contact with the ball and there does not appear to be any purpose served by the contact, it is more likely accidental than deliberate — even if it drops kindly. The absence of a purpose, of course, doesn’t mean there wasn’t one — only that we cannot discern it. Where there is a discernible reason, and the contact achieves that reason, then we should be far more likely to suspect its innocence.

The directive does not suggest that benefit of a player’s action should be the sole point to decide if a ball was handled deliberately 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 of criterion 3 is key: “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 that the handling of the ball was deliberate. If the referee is still unsure after considering these 3 criteria, then additional factors (reaction time, distance to ball) can be applied.