If a substitute enters the field of play before being beckoned, and while the player is still on the field, can the referee force the player off the field and mandate the team play short until the next substitution opportunity?

USSF answer (November 17, 2008):
The substitution procedure is quite clear: A substitution is not complete until each step has been properly executed. Before a new player may enter the field, he or she must be given permission by the referee. If that new player enters the field without permission, the process and thus the substitution has not been properly completed.

It would seem to be a bit extreme to force the player to wait until the next valid substitution opportunity. The Law states only that permission to proceed with a substitution may be refused under certain circumstances, e. g., if the substitute is not ready to enter the field of play. (See Interpretations, Law 3.) In your scenario, the referee should stop play, if it has restarted, require the player who entered early to leave the field and then return and only then allow the restart to be taken.

In short, then, the onus falls on the referee, who must use common sense in dealing with this problem.  The substitute can enter the field this way under only two scenarios — either he enters before his player has left and without being beckoned, or he has been beckoned to enter before the player has left. In the latter case, it is the referee’s fault and the referee must bear the entire burden of sorting out the consequences.  This includes NOT punishing either the substitute or the substitute’s team for the referee’s screw-up.

In the former case (which is the scenario described here), the substitute has entered the field illegally and could therefore be cautioned for unsporting behavior.  Even if the substitute is not cautioned, however, it remains the referee’s fault if play is restarted because, according to the Interpretations, play cannot restart except by a whistle signal by the referee.  That is likely one of the reasons why the Laws now specify that the restart has become ceremonial whenever a substitution has been requested — so that play CANNOT restart until the referee has sorted out all the issues of a substitution which has not gone accordingly to the correct procedure. Again, common sense is the key to solving the problem.

See earlier questions and answers for the hornet’s nest that can be stirred up by allowing this to happen in a fast-moving game.

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