The 2023/24 Premier League campaign will bring several rule changes to the English top flight. On Aug. 11, defending champions Manchester City travel to Turf Moor to play Burnley. That game will be the first to feature the modifications. Many of these try to answer the issue of time-wasting. Others try to quell the issue of abuse toward referees.

2023/24 Premier League rule changes

Crackdown on time-wasting

The main focus is a crackdown on time-wasting and dissent. Added minutes at the end of matches will frequently run into double digits, as seen at the World Cup. One referee estimates top-flight games will last a minimum of 100 minutes, up from just under 95 minutes last season.

Officials are concerned with statistics showing little ball-in-play time in England’s leagues. The aim is to resemble World Cup matches like England vs Iran, which had 24 minutes of added time and lasted 117 minutes total despite having injuries, goals and subs.

Referees will add more for lengthier goal celebrations. Referees will not simply guess how much time these celebrations take. Instead, they will keep a timer for how long teams celebrate together. Then, referees tack on those minutes to stoppage time.

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Multi-ball system

In further attempts to speed up play, the EFL will introduce the multi-ball system that the Premier League uses. Eight balls placed around the pitch should cut down delays. Referees will also diligently penalize time-wasting actions beyond just kicking the ball away. Clear and impactful delays will be punished.

More physical contact but also more cards

EFL and Premier League referees will hold a higher threshold for physical contact between players. In doing so, officials will call fewer fouls for incidents previously deemed overly physical. However, any reckless or dangerous challenges will still warrant cards. The threshold for bookings due to dissent will be lowered this season as well. Whenever multiple players approach the referee, at least one will receive an automatic yellow.

Coaches will face tighter scrutiny, with automatic cautions for having more than one staff member leave the technical area. Harsher sanctions will come for managers who are aggressive or abandon the technical area.

Off-field treatment

In a bid to promote player safety and deter game delays, the league encourages athletes to receive off-field treatment when possible. Exceptions include goalkeeper injuries and collisions between teammates. If a player declines medical assistance but a teammate then seems to purposely delay the restart, that perceived time-wasting teammate will be cautioned.

Are the rule changes the right approach?

The emphasis on eliminating unnecessary delays and gamesmanship while also promoting player safety is completely understandable. But one wonders if the new rules truly get to the core of the problem of time-wasting or do they miss the mark. Goalkeepers, namely Jordan Pickford and Emi Martinez, had several incidents of time-wasting in the previous campaign. This is particularly true in the dying minutes of games when their team is ahead.

It seems that if the goal is to “speed up” the game, there should be more emphasis on enforcing rules already in place rather than adding new rules.

TV networks will not be happy

Perhaps not as significant with the ever-expanding role of streaming but I cannot imagine TV networks being happy with matches that will regularly take over 2 hours to air when halftime is considered. It makes it harder for networks to program their schedules. And there is a point to be made for those who record matches to watch later that may miss endings due to their recording devices following a strict programmer’s schedule.

There are other guidelines not mentioned above. For example, such as reminding referees to book players who encroach on free kicks and enforcing stricter bench behavior. The emphasis is certainly on eliminating unnecessary delays and gamesmanship while also promoting player safety. Will it result in faster, tighter matches that better showcase football skills? I’m not convinced. But I am hopeful. Either way, it will be fascinating to observe the impact of these changes over the 2023-24 campaign.

PHOTO: IMAGO & Sportimage