10/11/12 — Soccer officiating on a decline in area

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Soccer officiating on a decline in area

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on October 11, 2012 1:48 PM

Soccer is often called "the beautiful game" when it's played, coached, officiated and observed by fans in the appropriate way.

However, when one or all of these factors goes array, soccer can resemble a train wreck.

I began covering soccer in Wayne County in the fall of 2007 and since then have noticed a gradual decline in the level at which it is officiated. This season, that level has reached a new low.

Several factors have contributed to the deterioration of soccer officiating in this area, including a lack of knowledge of the rules, inconsistency and prior affiliations to schools in the area.

The more I cover soccer in Wayne County the further I am convinced that not every official in the area has a clear grasp on offside and when to call it. FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, describes offside as occurring on a play when an offensive player is closer to the goal than the last defender at the moment at which the ball is played forward and not when the attacking player receives the ball.

I have witnessed countless misinterpretations of offside this season and the consistency at which offside is called incorrectly is puzzling.

Having played soccer while growing up I know from experience that soccer by nature is a contact sport. It is intended to be played with aggression, intensity and a respect for your opponent. Earlier this season, I covered a soccer game between two county schools in which the head referee showed no interest in calling a foul regardless of how physical the match became. The result was countless incidents in which punches were nearly thrown.

Just last week I watched as a referee chose to not penalize a player who ran full speed into a goalkeeper who had just charged out of the goal to grab a loose ball in the 6-yard box. The hit that would have brought a smile to the faces of plenty of head football coaches left the keeper on the ground for several minutes.

A head referee's failure to establish early in a game what is and is not a foul only creates confusion and an open door for altercations. These are high school boys fiercely engaged in competition, and if given an inch, they'll gladly take 10 miles.

I have yet to wrap my mind around how anyone who was previously affiliated with any high school in the county, public or private, as a coach, player or in any other capacity, is eligible to officiate soccer in the area. We're all human and no matter who you are, it is impossible to not be swayed occasionally by prior connections.

Coaches, players and fans should also be held to certain standards and poor officiating is never an excuse to deviate from those expectations.

After 14 months of marriage, I like to think I have a greater appreciation for things worthy of being considered beautiful. At times soccer falls into that category and in other moments I have to cover my eyes.