Earlier this month, I was refereeing [at a] Labor Day Cup. It was very, very windy. An attacker shot the ball from a far distance towards the goal. However, the wind pushed the net on the other side of the crossbar. The net shockingly prevented the ball from entering the net. (Did I mention how windy it was?) The net did NOT detach from the crossbar, but the wind was so strong the net was sitting in front of the goal.

What does the law say about the net? Well, from what I’ve researched, you do not have to have a net. From my perspective, the net (once it is pushed by the wind onto the field) becomes an outside agent even though the net is still connected to the posts. The referee should restart with a dropped ball from goal area line outside of where the contact was made. “Selling” this call would be nearly impossible, so I thought I would ask you guys on the best way to handle a situation like this.

USSF answer (October 3, 2011):
No, the net cannot be considered an outside agent in any game situation. In this case, referee failure to follow the dictates of Law 5 was the cause of the incident

As you say, the net is not required by the Laws of the Game; however, it is normally required by most rules of competition (such as the tournament at which the incident occurred). The organizers should have ensured that the net was firmly mounted on the goal and secured to the ground. The referee and the rest of the officiating crew should have inspected the field an all its appurtenances before the game began (and again prior to the start of the second half or any additional periods) and also ensured that the net was firmly mounted on the goal and secured to the ground.

Therefore, the fact that the net was blowing around must be regarded as a natural occurrence. There is no solution other than the one you suggest: once the net has been repaired, the referee must drop the ball from the spot at which the interference occurred (in accordance with Law 8): “The referee drops the ball at the place where it was located when play was stopped, unless play was stopped inside the goal area, in which case the referee drops the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was located when play was stopped. Play restarts when the ball touches the ground.”

The same logic could be applied to other situations caused by referee inattention to the Law and his or her duty to protect the players and, most important, to provide a “level” playing field so that each team receives fair and equal treatment. For example, suppose the scenario had involved a goal frame which, due to the high winds, was pushed forward toward the field such that the crossbar (though still attached) was ahead of the goal line rather than straight above it. Suppose further that a shot on goal was made at an extreme angle such that the ball struck the crossbar and the deflection enabled the ball to stay on the field whereas the ball would have gone into the upper left corner of the net if the crossbar had been properly positioned.