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Unsanctioned/Unaffiliated Matches - What You Need To Know

NCAA Men's College Cup Final
NCAA Men's College Cup Final

Scrimmages, unsanctioned matches or unaffiliated games however you may call them many referees who are certified are often asked to officiate these types of matches.

These unaffiliated leagues vary from ethnic cultures that make our country diverse and you have the unaffiliated leagues that cater to corporate America

- New York Referee Brendan Mullarkey

These matches also provide different challenges for the refereeing team than you wouldn't typically find in a USSF sanctioned match and help teach player management skills, communication with players and positioning among other skills.

For referees who decide to do these matches as a general rule we suggest not wearing your USSF badge or state referee association badge during a unaffiliated/unsanctioned matches or tournament. There have been cases where referee associations have taken disciplinary action and/or have suspended referees from officiating sanctioned games temporarily and in extreme cases permanently.

When you wear your badge during these matches it can seem as if are representing an organization that has no authority over the match you are officiating.

Here's a excerpt of an email chain between Ed Marco and Ralph Wolman on the topic of Unaffiliated Badges:

(The email chain was available to the public but has been taken down for unknown reasons)

Part of being certified as a USSF official is being covered by the insurance that is supplied as a member in good standing of USSF. When a Referee wears the badge he carries with him that backing. There is no generic badge because it would signify that USSF has certified that "official" and that he can officiate a game representing that fact with all the backing of USSF without ever qualifying for anything.

We recommend also not wearing the Official Sport International uniform during these matches because it has the US Soccer Referee Program Logo on the sleeve although it varies from location to location whether this is allowed or not. In general it would be best to not wear the OSI uniform if it is not requested by the league, or wear alternate referee uniforms such as those from Adidas or Macron.

Their are a lot of downsides to doing these matches such as when fights break out, crowd control becomes harder or other occurrences happen like what happened in the in the suburbs of Northern Virginia where two young officials working in a youth U-10 match were physically assaulted by a coach.

You can read more about it here:

USSF policies and/or liability insurance does not cover unaffiliated/unsanctioned matches or tournaments.

Many of these leagues don't require background checks for referees like Safe Sport with USSF and that can mean some referees have criminal record and other issues. If you happen to be assaulted at one of these matches there is no guarantee that the league will take proper actions.

This is what US Soccer says on the Certificate of Insurance you receive every year:

Coverage applies to US Soccer Federation (USSF) member referees who have been certified by USSF, but only while acting in their capacity as soccer referees during USSF sanctioned camps or clinics and during matches between USSF affiliated teams and leagues.
This includes USSF soccer referees acting in the capacity of State Referee Administrator, State Director of Assessment, State Assignment Coordinator, State Director of Referee Instruction, Chairman of the State Referee Committee and State Youth Referee Administrator, assistant referee 4th official, assessor, instructor or assignor.

USSF does not regard High School, NISOA and NCAA matches as unaffiliated/unsanctioned.

NCAA Men's College Cup Final
NCAA Men's College Cup Final

If you insist with doing matches in unaffiliated/unsanctioned tournaments we recommend becoming a member of NASO. By becoming a member you receive their General Liability Insurance Protection and a slew of other benefits. Learn more by clicking the link or watching the video below.

Read more about their benefits here:

These unaffiliated/unsanctioned tournaments can also have different ways in which referees are assigned to these matches. Many times assignments are based on petty politics or the coaches pick the officials.

On top of that, these matches may be more challenging than a typical USSF match and assessments will not count towards your upgrades in these matches.

- New York Referee Brendan Mullarkey

So the cliff notes:

  • Don't wear your USSF badge/patch/insignia while officiating unaffiliated/unsanctioned matches or tournaments.

  • Refrain from wearing any gear with the USSF logo including the USSF shirt, shorts and socks when not required.

  • Acknowledge when you become USSF certified you commit to severing sanctioned matches over unaffiliated/unsanctioned matches and tournaments.

  • USSF referees who knowingly decline assignments to sanctioned matches to work unaffiliated/unsanctioned matches are subject to disciplinary action from their SRA.

Is it a good idea to officiate these matches? That's a complicated question, these matches can be a great opportunity to practice and hone your refereeing skills while having an added risk factor to them.




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