I have a point to make about arm extension and ball control with regard to handling the ball, and my question will be “does my argument hold any water.” I’m aware by the answers to numerous questions on the subject that the call is made based on “deliberate” or “not deliberate”. I contend that the reason that there are numerous questions on the subject is that there is such difficulty in determining what is deliberate and not. I’m aware that there is a list of items to look for in determining the call, but it seems to me that arm extension and advantageous ball possession are key elements in determining whether the action may be deliberate. Otherwise, its just too difficult to make that call consistently. I’m speaking of occasions where it is not absolutely clear that the action is non-deliberate, but there is otherwise a difficulty in determining that the “handling” meets the specificity of what is deliberate. And for the most part, we’re talking about bang-bang plays.

The rule’s words are “deliberately handle” which implies control.

The point of the game is to control the ball – which hopefully leads to more goals for your side – and as such, would be the point for any action in the match. Therefore, unless it is clear that the handling action was not deliberate, then control of the ball should be a determining factor in deciding to make a call for deliberate handling (handball). In my opinion, same difficulty can be applied to arm extension, and since arm extension can be a form of ball control, should be applied in the same manner.

p.s. a true “deliberate” handball is a potential send-off, but of course, it is typical for many handball calls to be made during a match that are technically then “deliberate”, but for which it would be foolish to warn on each, much less send off for the infraction.

Maybe we can change the terminology on the greater infraction to “intentional”, similar to basketball’s intentional foul?

USSF answer (March 31, 2010):
You are trudging a well-worn path, but it leads you in the wrong direction. First, watch out for the notion of “unnatural position,” because what is natural for a female player maintaining balance is not natural for a male player maintaining balance under the same circumstances. The mere fact that a player, regardless of age or gender, may have an arm/hand raised does not magically transform accidental contact with the ball into a foul — it is only one factor to be considered. Next, where does the notion come from that a “deliberate handball is a potential send-off”? Nonsense! No more so than any foul is a potential send-off if the conditions are right.

Our perception is that most whistled handling offenses are not deliberate handling. And many that ARE called could be considered trifling or have advantage applied to them. Unfortunately, many referees who otherwise understand doubtful/trifling and advantage seem not to want to apply either of these concepts to a handling offense.

There is perfectly good and clear guidance out there in the USSF publications “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”:

The offense known as “handling the ball” involves deliberate contact with the ball by a player’s hand or arm (including fingertips, upper arm, or outer shoulder). “Deliberate contact” means that the player could have avoided the touch but chose not to, that the player’s arms were not in a normal playing position at the time, or that the player deliberately continued an initially accidental contact for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage. Moving hands or arms instinctively to protect the body when suddenly faced with a fast approaching ball does not constitute deliberate contact unless there is subsequent action to direct the ball once contact is made. Likewise, placing hands or arms to protect the body at a free kick or similar restart is not likely to produce an infringement unless there is subsequent action to direct or control the ball. The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement. A player infringes the Law regarding handling the ball even if direct contact is avoided by holding something in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.).

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.

and in the Directive on Handling the Ball:

Handling The Ball
2009 Referee Program Directives
February 2, 2009
Keys to Identifying Handling the Ball
There are several key criteria referees should use to determine whether contact between a player’s hand/arm and the ball constitutes a foul for handling. Many of the criteria have formed the foundation of referee identification of handling offenses for years. Despite this foundation, handling criteria continue to be applied inconsistently.
Going forward, additional criteria will need to be considered by officials in determining if contact by the ball with the hand/arm is, in fact, a handling offense. For example: Did the player make himself bigger?
The following 3 criteria should be the primary factors considered by the referee:
1. Making yourself bigger
This refers to the placement of the arm(s)/hand(s) of the defending player at the time the ball is played by the opponent. Should an arm/hand be in a position that takes away space from the team with the ball and the ball contacts the arm/hand, the referee should interpret this contact as handling. Referees should interpret this action as the defender “deliberately” putting his arm/hand in a position in order to reduce the options of the opponent (like spreading your arms wide to take away the passing lane of an attacker).
• Does the defender use his hand/arm as a barrier?
• Does the defender use his hand/arm to take away space and/or the
passing lane from the opponent?
• Does the defender use his hand/arm to occupy more space by extending
his reach or extending the ability of his body to play the ball thereby benefiting from the extension(s)?
2. Is the arm or hand in an “unnatural position?” Is the arm or hand in a position that is not normal or natural for a player performing the task at hand.
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.
After applying the aforementioned criteria, if the referee is still uncertain as to whether handling the ball has occurred, the referee should then incorporate the following two criteria as part of his decision making process:
4. Reaction Time The less time a defender has to react, the less likely there has been a handling offense. For example, a ball struck from a close distance, or a very fast moving ball, or a ball coming in from a direction which is outside the defender’s view gives little or no time for the defender’s reaction to be “deliberate.” The referee must take into consideration whether the defender’s reaction is purely instinctive, taken to protect sensitive areas of the body as the face. Distance is a factor in determining “reaction time.” The further the ball, the more reaction time a play may have.
5. Hand/arm to ball Referees must be ready to judge whether the player moved his arm to the ball thereby initiating the contact. Additionally, the referee should evaluate whether the player deliberately readjusted his body position to block the ball thus intentionally playing the ball with his hand/arm.

We strongly urge that you not allow the word “benefit” in item 3 of the Directive to confuse you. It clearly states in that paragraph that this benefit can only result from a deliberate action. Any “benefit” that accrues to a player who has NOT deliberately handled the ball is purely and simply a serendipitous event and must not be confused with a planned action. And also review the guidance in our first two paragraphs.

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