September 1, 2016

What's new in 2016? - Part 2: Rules Changes

By Christan Shirk

This is Part 2 of a two part article about the various changes occurring for the new 2016 season. This part covers rules changes while Part 1 covers programs being added (or terminated), updates in schools' membership status, changes in conference affiliation, changes related to the NCAA tournament, etc.

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Being an evened-numbered year, the new season brings with it an updated rules book for NCAA soccer. The 2016 and 2017 NCAA Soccer Rules are in effect for the next two seasons. This new edition of the rules doesn't contain as many changes as previous editions, although the Fouls and Misconduct section underwent a major re-organization. Some of the changes are really only clarifications while others are new rules or stipulations.

None of the changes seem too impactful, at least not this year. Making video review by referees permissible (but not required) for some limited situations is certainly an intriguing development and may become more significant in the years ahead, but at the present time it's doubtful that many Division III schools will be able to provide easily accessible video replay to referees in a timely, on-demand manner at their soccer facilities. The language of the offside rule becomes more aligned with FIFA's, although one has to wonder why the NCAA doesn't simply adopt FIFA's offside rule. The new requirement that opponents remain two yards from the touch-line on throw-ins is a simple and sensible improvement that should have been made long ago. It is nice to see the clarification on noisemakers (and the reference to the game atmosphere throughout the world) so fans can feel free to use a variety of instruments and noisemakers in creating a passionate atmosphere.


NEWVideo review for three specific purposes is permitted (not required) in any game where both coaches agree to its use prior to the start of the game and the technology is available on the field and easily accessible by the referee. The referee is the only person who can initiate video review.

The three purposes for which video review is permissible are:

• to determine whether a goal has been scored,

• to confirm the identify of players for disciplinary matters, and

• to determine whether a fight occurred and identify all participants.

Video review cannot be used to determine whether or not a penalty kick should have been awarded or whether or not a foul warrants issuance of a caution or an ejection.

The referee must make a decision on the field before attempting video review. That is, in order to review whether a goal was scored, the referee must have already awarded or not awarded the goal. To use video to confirm the identity of a disciplined player, the referee must have already cautioned or ejected somebody. In order to look at a replay to determine if a fight occurred, the referee must have already issued disciplinary cards. The referee cannot use the availability of video review to avoid making a decision.

In the case of determining if a goal has been scored or a fight has occurred, the referee must initiate video review at the next stoppage before any restart. Use of video to confirm the identity of disciplined players can be done at any time throughout the game or immediately afterwards. If the available video does not show indisputable evidence to overrule a decision made on the field by the referee, the decision stands.

There is no obligation on the part of host schools to provide or attempt to provide video replay capabilities accesible to referees.  Should they choose to do so, there is no specific equipment required as long as it demonstrates the video in a manner that can be used by the referee.


NEW / CLARIFICATION ► The situations in which offside shall not be declared by the referee has been expanded to explicitly include an offensive player receiving a ball from a deliberate act by an opponent (except a save), regardless of the position of the offensive player at the time the ball was played by the opponent. A deliberate act is defined as "one in which a player chooses to act, regardless of the outcome of that action. This deliberate act is neither a reaction nor reflex." This definition indicates that reactive or reflexive acts are considered the same as inadvertent contact with the ball by an opponent which is not grounds for disregarding a player's offside position. This makes the NCAA's offside rule more consistent with FIFA's. [Rule 11.3.3]

CHANGE ► The verbiage "gained an advantage by being in active play" has been replaced with "was involved in active play" as one of the criteria for declaring a player offside. That is, no judgment on whether a player gained an advantage is required anymore because simply being involved in active play is grounds for being declared offside. [Rule 11 Diagrams]


NEW ► When a throw-in is attempted, all opponents must be a minimum of two yards from the touch line. This new stipulation sets an enforceable standard to ensure that the thrower has adequate space to get the ball back into play, without delay or interference by an opponent. [Rule 15.2]

CLARIFICATION ► For tie-breaker penalty kicks, language has been added that "designated kickers are the only personnel permitted on the field and are required to be in the center circle." The exception to this is if the goalkeeper is a designated kicker, in which case the referee must be notified before the taking of the first kick. This clarification was added to insure no coaches or players, who are not designated kickers, are on the field during tie-breaker penalty kicks. [A.R. 7.1.1]


CLARIFICATION ► Spectators are permitted to use artificial noisemakers at any time including the run of play, provided they are not one of the prohibited items (whistles, bull horns, air horns, electronic amplifiers) and do not interfere with the administration of the game. If the referee determines that noisemakers are interfering with the game, game site administrators are required to intervene. This clarification has been made to encourage fan attendance and engagement in the game by actively supporting their teams, thus enhancing the game atmosphere in a manner consistent with the soccer throughout the world. Institutional/pep bands and amplified music, however, continue to be limited to pre-game, intervals, and when the clock is stopped and the ball is not in play. [A.R. 5.6.9a and A.R. 5.6.9b]


CHANGE / NEW ► Any visible undergarments worn under the jersey or shorts be a solid color are now required (previously it was just recommended) to be a solid color. Additionally, the same color must be worn by all team members wearing undergarments. Matching the undergarment color to the dominant color of the jersey or shorts that it is beneath remains a recommendation, not a requirement. This makes the entire "uniform" consistent in color to avoid confusion and assist the referees. [Rule 4.2.4]

CHANGE ► Players warming up outside the coaching and team areas are now required (previously it was just recommended) to wear colored jerseys/vests that distinguish them from all other field players. This assures that substitutes can be clearly identified to avoid misidentification and confusion with field players. [Rule 4.2.5]


CHANGE / NEW ► Game rosters will now be exchanged 30 minutes prior to game time instead of the previous 15 minutes. Teams will now be required to clear the field at 10 minutes to game time after which the captains and officials meet for coin toss. These changes, which are incorporated into the Recommended Timing Sheets, have been made to assure the timely start of the game and to avoid "administrative" interruptions of pre-game warm-up activity. [Rule 6.3.4 and Recommended Timing Sheets]

CLARIFICATION ► Language on the Recommended Timing Sheets has been changed to clarify that halftime starts immediately when the first half ends. This clarification was needed to correct contrary local practices. [Recommended Timing Sheets]

CLARIFICATION ► Any mutual decision between teams or determination by the governing sports authority to allow a delayed or suspended game to start or restart more than three hours after the originally scheduled start time must be made and communicated to the referee before the start of the game. This clarifies when this decision needs to be made and when the referee must be notified of the decision: before the game, not during a delay or suspension. [Rule 7.6]


CHANGE ► Institution, conference or NCAA name or logo are now allowed on corner flags. No other names, logos or markings are permitted and there are no changes to the flag size. This change permits promotional opportunities that are already available elsewhere at the game venue. [Rule 1.8]

CHANGE ► Institution, conference or NCAA name or logo are now allowed on goal nets. No other names, logos or markings are permitted besides the already allowed appropriately-sized manufacturer's identification/logo. This change permits promotional opportunities that are already available elsewhere at the game venue. [Rule 1.10]


With each new bi-annual edition of the rules, the rules committee identifies areas and rules to be given special attention during the next two-year cycle. Naturally, the more important new rules or changes are typically selected for emphasis, but unchanged rules which haven't been administered or enforced adequately or consistently in the previous year(s) are also highlighted for extra attention.  However, this cycle all the points of emphasis are new or changed rules and comprisethe following items which have been discussed above:

Rule 5.6.9 (Use of artificial noisemakers)

Rule 5.7 (Video review)

Rule 6.3.4 (Timing of roster exchange and coin toss procedure)

Rule 7.6 (Inclement weather policy)

Rule 11.3 (Definition of "deliberate" related to offside)

Rule 15.2 (Distance requirement for opponents during throw-in)


Comments or feedback for the author?  Email Christan Shirk.


Christan Shirk


Christan Shirk is a Messiah College graduate (1993, Civil Engineering) and has been a keen and passionate observer of D-III soccer for over a decade and a half. Never more than a rec-league player himself, Chris brings an analytical approach and nationwide perspective to He loves D-III soccer history, statistical number-crunching, and off-the-radar action, all of which he gladly shares with his readers when he's able to find time to write. [see full bio]

Questions or comments?

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