The attacking team makes a long pass downfield. The ball is heading toward the goaline, just inside the penalty box. An attacker is sprinting downfield trying to get to the ball before it rolls out of bounds. A defender is giving chase as well.

The attacker is able to stop the ball right before it crosses the goalline, and the ball rolls backwards about a yard, sitting inside the penalty box, about halfway between the side of the goal box and penalty box.

However, the momentum of the sprint to the ball causes both players to leave the field of play by a few yards. The attacker is a bit more agile than the defender, and is able to change direction first.

However, prior to the re-entering the field, the defender turns, and grabs the attacker’s jersey, preventing him from getting to the ball and making a cross to an open player.

My very small, meager, and limited understanding of the Laws (I have no business earning a badge and suiting up in the yellow shirt on Saturdays) are that the action by the defender is classified as misconduct, as it occurred off the field of play. In all likelihood, the defender shall be cautioned for unsporting behavior for the blatent shirt pull. However, the only possible restart in this case is a dropped ball at the point where the ball (if outside the goalbox, moving it parallel if not) was when the misconduct occurred.

If my interpretation is correct, to put it mildly, this really sucks for the attacking team. Sure, the defender gets a caution, but for robbing the attacking team from having the ball in a prime location, the result is a dropped ball. That just seems to go against the spirit of fair play.

I would also hope the referee in this situation would double check with his AR who studiously sprinted down the sideline as well to make sure that tug on the shirt didn’t happen to conclude with any part of it occurring over a blade of grass on the outside edge of the goalline, inside the penalty box, where a penalty kick could be awarded.

USSF answer (June 23, 2008):
Any infringement of the Laws committed while off the field by players who have left the field during the course of play must be punished by a caution for unsporting behavior or a send-off for violent conduct, as applicable to the action. The only restart permitted by the Laws of the Game is a dropped ball at the place where the ball was when the infringement occurred (keeping in mind the special circumstances regarding restarts in the goal area).

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