Throw-Ins from Where?

Sid, an adult amateur parent, asks:

Why don’t referees enforce the throw-in point? I can understand a little if a ball flies across the sideline because exact point is a judgment, but I see players easing up the sideline, often several yards beyond, to point the ball rolled across the sideline when doing throw-ins.


There are several ways we could answer your question.  One is to simply admit that referees don’t enforce the throw-in location as much as they should.  Another is that many referees simply don’t pay that much attention to exactly where the ball leaves the field (they are focusing on who made the last contact with the ball) and, as a result, they see it as easier to simply take the throwing player’s location as OK.  A third reason is grounded in one of the most basic and fundamental principles of officiating, though not expressly stated in the Law because the writers of the Law believed it was so fundamental that it shouldn’t need to be stated (they don’t understand Americans too well also) and that is the notion that (to paraphrase how it was in the Law more than 20 years ago) “constant whistling for doubtful or trifling offenses” is contrary to the spirit of a sport whose core is constant and continuous action.

When you get right down to it, this apparent oversight falls into the same category as the 6-second restriction on how long goalkeepers are allowed to maintain hand control of the ball.  We would venture to say that the percent of goalkeeper possessions whistled at the 6-second mark is virtually zero.  Is that bad or good?  Maybe yes, maybe no – it depends on what is going on and whether a longer time is being taken for an unfair reason.  Same with the throw-in location.

The Law allows one yard.  Occasionally it happens.  More often it is ignored and the throw comes from 2-3 yards from the exit point, but what should not be ignored is when the “extra” distance taken is excessive and/or for an unfair or unsporting reason.  Most people get up tight about the failure to enforce the precise location if it brings the thrower closer to the goal being attacked but a throw being taken closer to the thrower’s goal could be just as unfair for tactical and other reasons.  On the other hand, it is statistically demonstrable that, in roughly two-thirds of all throw-ins, control of the ball changes to the opposing team within 1-2 plays.

What it comes down to is this … did the problem with the throw-in location make a difference?  If no apparent gain is achieved by the erroneous throw-in location, is it really worth stopping play?  Remember, if you whistle, there is no flexibility in the Law as to what must then occur (the other team gains possession and the throw is retaken).  It would be a major officiating error to whistle for this offense and then direct the thrower to do it over but this time from the correct location.  The referee can choose not to whistle (and could certainly verbally warn the thrower as play continues) but, once whistled, the offense must rule the restart.

Taking the 6-second and the 1-yard limitations together and enforcing them strictly would certainly reduce playing time, burn up whistles, and leave a lot of people on and off the field grumbling.  That’s not what makes the game beautiful.