Cam, an adult amateur referee, asks:

Can you caution a player/players for surrounding the referee after a decision has gone against them or simply they disagree with you?


Yes, it’s possible.  There are conditions, however, that need to be taken into account.  Simply disagreeing with the referee is not an offense – it’s all in how you do it.  The training on this matter is clear – if there is mass confrontation (2 or more), everything goes into high gear and less leeway is allowed in what we are about to say.

Dissent decisions are based on the “3Ps” – Personal, Public, and Provocative.

  • If what is said (verbally or otherwise) is directed at an official, it’s personal (the difference between “you are wrong” where the “you” is an official versus “I don’t agree with that call”).
  • If what is said (verbally or otherwise) loudly enough that it can be heard/seen by a large number of persons on or off the field, it is public (the difference between standing 10 feet away and shouting at the top of your lungs for the entire field to hear “I don’t agree with that call” versus walking by the referee and saying in a low enough voice that “you are wrong on that call.”
  • If what is said (verbally or otherwise) includes generally recognizable unacceptable language, it is provocative (the difference between saying “I f…ing don’t agree with that f…ing call” or giving a one finger salute versus “Sir, the reason for that last decision was impenetrably obtuse and bespeaks a cognitive level lower than winter temperatures in Siberia”).

Any one of these Ps, if at the extreme end, can be enough to warrant a caution.  Anything that even at a moderate level combines 2 or all 3 of these Ps can be enough to warrant a caution.  Any of these Ps at even a below moderate level could, if engaged in by two or more players simultaneously from less than 4-5 feet away from an official, be the basis for a caution – and the larger the number of players encircling the official (all this applies to ARs as well, but still has to be the decision of the referee), the more likely the caution becomes (i.e., mass confrontation).

So, it’s all a balancing judgment – how much “3 P” behavior do we have, at what level, involving how many?  The underlying standard for making the decision is whether not cautioning for dissent makes more likely a continuation, heightening, repetition, or spreading of the behavior.