There is a question and answer provided on the USSF website which asks, and then confirms, that in the event of a throw-in in the area of the AR, the referee does not need to signal if the AR’s signal is correct. However, this reminded me of a situation that was brought up in the Recertification Class I just recently took. In the example given, the AR raised the flag for offsides, but was waved down by the Referee a few seconds later, because the keeper ended up getting the ball. However, as the AR was in the act of lowering his flag, the keeper dropped the ball to the ground, assuming it was offsides, and the opposing attacker ran in and took the ball and scored. The correct answer in this situation, we were told, is that the goal should stand, since the AR does not actually have the authority to make calls, and since the referee had not called the offsides, the game was officially still in progress when the keeper dropped the ball. They also told us that the keeper should be clearly instructed not to pay attention to any calls made by the AR unless the referee has called them.

However, this seems to contradict the answer given in this question. In the example given in the question of a throw-in, the referee makes no signal or acknowledgement that the ball is out of play, and the only figure signaling the proper restart is the AR. This seems to imply that signals given by the AR CAN be considered valid, even with no signal from the referee. Telling players to follow signals given by the AR in some cases, but ignore them in other cases, is quite confusing and could easily and understandably result in an example such as the one I have provided.

So, what is the proper decision? Should the referee signal for all restarts of play, or should the players be conditioned to follow the signals given by the AR, potentially resulting in situations that could significantly affect the outcome of the game?

USSF answer (March 31, 2009):
Perhaps you have misread our answer of 24 March 2009.  It is not simply a case of the referee not needing to signal at those times when the assistant referee is right, but of the referee NOT NEEDING TO SIGNAL UNLESS A SIGNAL IS NEEDED.  The controlling source here is the Guide to Procedures, which clearly states that the referee does not need to signal when the ball has left the field where the AR is expected to give the signal “unless necessary” — which makes the real question, “When might it be necessary?”  It might be necessary if the AR is incorrect (the referee saw a touch on the ball which the AR did not or could not see); the players are continuing to play the ball despite the signal by the AR; the players acknowledge that the ball left the field, but are disputing the AR’s signal as to which team has possession, etc.  All referees should note that, technically under the Law, the players are required to stop playing the ball when it leaves the field and this does not take any signal by the AR or referee (yet we often hear coaches, somewhat cynically, tell their players to keep playing the ball until there is a signal, even when they know absolutely that the ball has left the field.  The AR’s signal merely confirms a fact — it does not create it.

With regard to the offside situation, let us remind you of the old saying: “The Laws of the Game are not intended to compensate for the mistakes of players.”  The ball leaving the field is a physical fact (see above) whereas offside, fouls, etc. are pure judgment calls, which is why it takes the referee’s signal to actually create the conditions for a stoppage.  Here, the referee DID signal — he waved down the AR’s flag — which every player should have taken to mean that the AR’s prior signal is to be ignored.  The fact that the goalkeeper failed to understand this is the goalkeeper’s problem, not a problem in mechanics.

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