This summer, the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Soccer Rules Committee decided to revamp the interpretations made by officials for both handball and offside situations.
As of recent, handballs in college soccer were stricter since they were called when contact was accidental in most circumstances. With this summer’s adjustments, ball-to-hand contact does not mean a violation will be called. Officials can judge accidental contact by observing factors such as where on the arm the ball hit, if the arm was placed in a natural body position, and if the handball impacted a goal-scoring opportunity.
Offside calls will be altered as well. Officials will no longer factor in the hands and arms of players when judging for an offside.
These alterations will improve the flow of the game since handballs that players have no control over dodging will not be called and strikers will have more options to make attacking runs without the worry of where their arms are positioned.
Improving the game flow of soccer is not something just the NCAA is focusing on. In fact, it is correct to assume that the NCAA is making these changes to follow what UEFA’s interpretations (and European soccer in general) seem to be trending toward. This was seen at EURO 2020 this summer when chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti announced prior to the tournament that new rules for both handballs and offsides should provide more freedom to players. Looking back at EURO 2020, the shift was a success. Rosetti gave a huge praise to the referees involved, emphasizing their high level of accuracy and professionalism. Ahmet Guvener, former head of refereeing for the Turkish FA, commented that the refereeing at EURO 2020 was some of the best he has seen in several years.
The shift in officiating is a promising sign for the game. In the latest seasons where VAR has been implemented in numerous leagues (i.e., Premier League), it seems as if offside calls are decided by whether a player forgot to trim their fingernails before the match because the offside calls were that narrow. For handballs, the defenders might be better off detaching their arms prior to stepping on the pitch due to the strictness of recent handball calls.
Even though the NCAA does not have access to VAR, it will be great to see more free flowing matches this upcoming season that will keep the players satisfied, and the fans more engaged.