How To Effectively Use Radios In Your Games

Crews are using radios more and more frequently in high school football games, as well they should. They allow for quick and efficient communication among officials, which in turn lessens the probability of errors and confusion and reduces the actual time spent in managing the game.

This week we have a guest post written by Jake Rosiek, a high school referee from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Jake provides the guidelines you will need to use radios effectively during your next game so that you can gain all of the benefits of this very useful tool.

Jake Rosiek, Referee, Myrtle Beach, SC. Jake is a member of SCFOA District 11.

Football Crew Wireless Communication Device (Official-To -Official Radios) Protocol

Wireless electronic Official-to-Official Communications (o2o comms) on the field are an effective tool for overall game management and crew communication.  The following protocol and procedures should be be used to ensure proper high school mechanics are still followed when using o2o comms.

First of all

We must remember that the radios are on an open frequency.  This means:

  • Do not say anything on the channel you would not say to a coach, player or loved one
  • Keep it clean, clear, concise and professional
Procedures
  • When using o2o, push the Push To Talk (PTT) button on the radio or on the earpiece, pause one second before speaking, then speak so the entire transmission is heard by all.
  • When using the PTT feature on the earpiece, speak in a normal tone and keep the PTT microphone 4-6” away from your mouth.
  • Limit speaking on the channel; there should be no idle chatter.  Less is more when it comes to using the radios. Only one official should speak at a time.
  • Swimmer’s ear wax may be helpful in keeping the earpiece in place during games.
  • Do not leave the PTT button engaged when conversing with a coach so that the entire crew can hear.
  • It is the crew’s responsibility to coordinate and test the system at each stadium prior to the game and ensure the frequency does not interfere with any other party, especially teams.

Penalty Enforcement
  • When a foul is called, the calling official(s) should use o2o to relay the 4 Ws to the Referee.
    1. Include fouling player’s number so wing officials can relay that to the Head Coach.
    2. State information is as few descriptive words as possible for time & security.
    3. Example: “Holding by offense #67 behind the LoS; grab and restrict at the PoA.”
  • If there is an enforcement decision to be made, especially when options are similar, the near wing official should obtain the decision from the head coach to create efficiencies for the crew and cut down on dead ball time during the game.
  • Referee and Umpire should communicate off the o2o system for purposes of enforcement.
Effective Officiating With O2O
  1. Examples of effective game management and communication:
    • If a player is close to a penalty or losing his cool
    • HC states he will take a knee to end a period
    • HC states he will run the play clock down and take a timeout
    • HC has a concern and wants us to watch a player or play
  2. Examples of appropriate times and situations for o2o comms:

    • Ball placement
    • Clock/time management/timeouts
    • Goal and yard line reminders
    • Positions on try
    • Line-to-gain confirmations
    • Player foul reporting
    • Sideline/administrative issues
    • Player conduct concerns
    • Confirmation of rulings
    • Kickoffs out of bounds decisions
    • Unusual situations
    • Communicate LOS to deep officials in scrimmage kick
    • Augment signal for covered lineman
    • Request new ball/equipment issues
    • Correct down prior to snap (shut down if snap is imminent)
    • Supplement clock wind / snap to R

 

While many of you may not have used radios during games, we think that if you give them a try, you will find them an invaluable resource that will greatly improve your on-field performance.

They are relatively inexpensive, and well worth the investment. And if you follow these guidelines, you will make the transition with ease.

What about you? Do you have any comments or suggestions on the use of radios during your games? If so, please leave a comment so others can gain from your knowledge and expertise.

We thank Jake for his contribution this week. You can reach him at jake.rosiek@gmail.com.

2017 HS FOOTBALL RULES, RANKED!

Every new high school football season brings with it changes to the rules of the game. The reasons for the changes are many.

They can help make the players safer. New rules can be added to help keep pace with the ever-changing technologies and equipment available to teams.

Or measures can be taken to help the rules evolve with the way the game is played. (In a similar way, rules can be introduced to keep the game from maintaining trends that are harmful to the  game.)

No matter the reason, rules changes are a fact of life for officials and have an impact on your ability to call the game fairly and consistently. Rules changes must not only be learned, but incorporated into your very first scrimmage and applied throughout the season.

2017 has ushered in eleven major rules changes. Here now are those eleven new high school football rules, ranked on how they will impact how you call your game.

In this article, we are not questioning the reasoning behind the rules changes. Nor are we sitting in judgement of their effectiveness. We are ranking them by their impact on you, the official, in five ways:

  • Will it make it harder for you to officiate the game?     (Much harder = 5; easier or no impact = 1)
  • Is there a chance of inconsistencies in the enforcement of the rule, from crew-to-crew and from week-to-week?     (High likelihood of inconsistency = 5; low likelihood = 1)
  • Will the new rule change how you call the game?     (Creating a major change = 5; small change = 1)
  • Is there a steep learning curve involved in the application of the rule?     (Hard to learn and apply = 5; easy to learn and apply = 1)
  • And will the new rule actually come into play on a frequent basis? (Frequent enforcement = 5; infrequent enforcement = 1)

Here, in order from least impactful to most impactful, are the 2017 high school football rules changes:

#10 (tie):  Home team jersey color (5 points).

Harder 1; Consistency 1; Change 1; Learning 1; Frequency 1

The new rule stipulates that the home team shall wear a dark jersey that clearly contrasts with white – in 2021! This is an important rule due to the growing trend among teams to wear gray home uniforms. But the rule will come into play only one time – when the officials enter the field with jurisdiction over the game.

If both teams are wearing non-white jerseys, the referee could require the visiting team to change into white jerseys. If those are not available, then the referee may require the home team to change into white jerseys.

This does not happen often, but if it does, adjustments should be made, the game should go on, and the situation should be reported to the state office.

#10 (tie): Meeting with the head coach for equipment verification (5 points).

Harder 1; Consistency 1; Change 1; Learning 1; Frequency 1

Beginning in 2017, any member of the officiating crew can accompany the referee to meet with the head coach in order to verify proper equipment will be used at all times. Under old rules, it was only the referee and the umpire who were allowed such privilege.

The fact that it would be almost impossible to screw up this rule makes it virtually non-existent as to the impact it will have on you. As long as the question is asked, in front of two officials (one being the referee), you are good to go for the rest of the game. This change does not make things any harder on you. If anything, it makes it easier. There is nothing much to learn, other than each state association may designate which official accompanies the referee for verification. In that case, you will have to recognize the requirement of your state association.

However, I think you will find that most state associations will tell you to keep doing it the way you have been doing it.

Note that the umpire, and the umpire alone, is the sole judge of whether equipment is proper and legal.

#7 (tie): No commercial advertising on the ball (6 points).

Harder 1; Consistency 1; Change 1; Learning 1; Frequency 2

Commercial advertising is no longer allowed on the ball. All that is allowed on the ball is the manufacturer’s name or logo; the NFHS name or logo; a state association name and/or logo; a conference name and/or logo; and a school name, logo and/or mascot.

Fairly simple and straight-forward. If you see a car dealer’s logo on a ball when you check them before the game, you can’t play with it. This will not change how we officiate in that we still have to look at and approve the game balls, and the rule is easy to understand and apply.

The frequency, however, will be a little greater than you might imagine. We can all safely admit that once the game starts, we may lose track of what was an approved ball and what wasn’t. But if nothing else, all officials should be glancing at every ball in play so that they only have approved markings. If one with commercial markings finds it’s way into a game, we should recognize it quickly, remove it from the game, and make sure that it does not re-appear.

#7 (tie): Dead ball if the prosthetic limb comes off the runner (6 points).

Harder 1; Consistency 1; Change 1; Learning 2; Frequency 1

This is a rule implemented to increase the safety among the players. And it should all make us feel good that the rules committee felt the need to address this as a rule change. It strikes at the heart of the very purpose of high school athletics, which is to encourage a diversity of students to participate in athletic activities and promote respect, integrity and sportsmanship.

Players with prosthetic limbs are nothing new to high school football, so the emphasis on those players will not be a big change to you. We can only hope that the frequency with which we have to apply this rule increases over time.

But there is one aspect of the rule that creates a little bit of a learning challenge for officials. Editorially, the rule states the ball is dead when the prosthetic limb comes off the runner.  By definition, a runner is someone in possession of a live ball, or simulating possession of a live  ball.

We think, however, that the rule should only be applied to a player in possession of the ball. It’s a small distinction, but important nonetheless.

#7 (tie): Encroachment if the defense strikes the ball, or the snapper’s hand or arm, before the snapper releases the ball (6 points).

Harder 1; Consistency 1; Change 1; Learning 2; Frequency 1

This is a rule borne out of necessity due to the fact that this play has been known to happen, but there was no specific foul or penalty attached to it.

The rule now specifically states that a defender cannot strike the arm or hand of the snapper, or the ball, before the snapper releases the ball. When this contact occurred in the past, it looked illegal, and it smelled illegal, and by all intents and purposes, it was illegal. But it has been ruled everything from unsportsmanlike conduct, to a personal foul, to an unfair act, to even encroachment, perhaps.

Now, the rules committee has told us that it is encroachment, which is a dead-ball foul, enforced five yards from the previous spot. This, in fact, makes it much easier on you as an official because you now have a foul to attach to the action, and you are able to be consistent in its enforcement. It is not a big change, because the action has typically been ruled illegal in some sort of way, although it does not happen often, and most likely will not happen frequently.

The increased learning will come from the fact that there is a specific penalty that accompanies the action, and therefore you will have to study to recognize the new ruling.

#6: Illegal Participation fouls that occur at the snap are not enforced under PSK (12 points).

Harder 3; Consistency 2; Change 2; Learning 3; Frequency 2

There has been a change in how illegal participation (IP) fouls are enforced if they happen during scrimmage kicks. Previously, all IP fouls were not enforced under PSK. However, the rule change this year clarifies that IP fouls that occur at the snap are still not enforced under PSK, but all others are.

The philosophy behind PSK is that once K scrimmage kicks the ball, they are basically giving up possession. If R fouls during the kick, at certain times and in certain places, K should not be rewarded by getting a replay of the down (or perhaps even a first down) when they have given up the ball. Under PSK, the fouls are enforced from the end of the kick.

However, the one time an IP foul by R would give them a tremendous advantage would be one that occurs at the snap. By the very nature and definition of IP, R would receive benefits from violating the rules at the snap, and it would not be fair to let them retain the ball and be penalized only from the end of the run.

So, all IP fouls that occur at the snap are not enforced under PSK, but rather from the basic spot under normal rule enforcement. This is a small, but rather significant, change in the rules.

This makes it a little harder on you as an official because you have to recognize an IP foul by R when it occurs at the snap. What are the  IP fouls that are said to occur at the snap?

They are:

  • A disqualified player returning to the game.
  • A player lying on the ground to deceive the opponent at or immediately before the snap or free kick.
  • Using a replaced player, a player, a substitute, a coach, or other attendant in a substitution, or pretended substitution, to deceive opponents at, or immediately before, the snap or free kick.
  • Having twelve or more players participating at the snap.
  • Allowing an injured player to return to the game prior to being replaced for one down, unless there is a halftime or overtime intermission.

If one (or more) of those IP fouls occur, then they are enforced from the previous spot, and PSK is not involved.

Because this is a significant change, there is some chance that it may be missed, especially early in the season. PSK happens on a fairly consistent basis, so it will be important for your crew of officials to recognize the differences in IP enforcement so there will be consistency among crews throughout the season.

#5: Pop-up kicks are illegal (17 points).

Harder 3; Consistency 2; Change 2; Learning 5; Frequency 5

Another safety-inspired rule change, the pop-up kick is now illegal. The pop-up kick, which is a free kick that is driven immediately into the ground and goes into the air, with all of the outward appearances of a short kick, posed an immediate danger to the second line of receivers. To them, the kick appears only to have been in flight. Because the ball already hit the ground, those receivers were left  in a dangerous and precarious position of being blocked if the ball traveled ten yards.

Since this was not a widespread problem, the learning curve may not be as great as first thought. Teams shouldn’t try to use the kick now that it has been deemed illegal. But just because it’s illegal does not mean that teams will not try it.

Here’s an example of a pop-up kick:

However, all officials must be aware of what the kick is on the off-chance it does happen. The umpire, in particular, will have the primary responsibility in the kick’s legality. All officials must also know that the foul is a dead-ball foul, penalized as a free kick infraction from the previous spot. Do not let the play proceed!

The pop-up may not happen much, but the possibility that it will makes it something that has to be watched for on every free kick. Before it became a rule, many officials may not have been aware that such a kick even existed. Now, it is something that the three front officials on free kicks must be looking for.

It won’t change how we officiate free kicks much, other than it provides one more thing to look for, which makes all free kicks just that much harder to work. There is a danger of inconsistency if officials are not able to recognize when a pop-up happens, or if they are unaware that they even have to be looking for such a thing.

This is one thing to discuss in your pregame meetings, especially early in the year.

#4: Face guarding is no longer pass interference (18 points).

Harder 3; Consistency 3; Change 5; Learning 3; Frequency 4

Face guarding is no longer considered to be pass interference (PI), as long as there is no contact with the opponent while the face guarding is taking place.

This is a big change and should occur with some frequency, as coaches should be teaching their players to effectively face guard if the situation calls for it. It didn’t occur much in the past because it was illegal, but you should see more of it during the upcoming season due to this change.

Covering officials will have to learn what face guarding is and when it can be applied. There have been questions raised as to whether the “no contact” stipulation means that only the contact made with the hands or arms doing the face guarding is covered under this rule. A fair interpretation would be that any contact on an opponent, whether it be with the hands or arms attempting to face guard, or the torso or legs of the player against an opponent, would be contact and would override the face guarding allowance. In order to be consistent, officials will not be able to rule contact incidental if there is proper face guarding, but contact elsewhere against an opponent.

#2 (tie): Examples of defenseless players (22 points).

Harder 5; Consistency 5; Change 2; Learning 5; Frequency 5

#2 (tie): Definition of a blindside block (22 points).

Harder 5; Consistency 5; Change 2; Learning 5; Frequency 5

These two rules changes have created the most anxiety and discussion among officials this summer, and we can discuss them together because they are so similar.

In an effort to further increase awareness of the safety of the players, the rules committee created a definition of a blindside block and provided eight specific examples of a defenseless player. While their intentions were good, the result was mass confusion over what the new rules actually meant and how they were to be applied.

But when all was said and done, more was said and not much new was done. That’s because all-in-all, the examples and definitions you have been given amounted to nothing more than extra words used to describe fouls that you were calling in games already. Thus, the learning curve for these two rules is very steep and involves figuring out just what constitutes a defenseless player and a blindside block.

Even worse, the examples provided for defenseless players make it harder for officials to officiate the game. While the safety of the players should always be paramount, calling the fouls on defenseless players as listed would completely change the way the game of high school football is played.

My very own situation with this illustrates just how controversial these new rules were in the beginning. In my first spring game following the announcement of the defenseless players examples, we told the coaches that certain contact was now illegal, among them the passer in the act of throwing and the receiver up in the air. As you can imagine, both coaches were incredulous, and even some officials said they would not call such things illegal. You can see how this put everyone in a little bit of a pickle.

After much debate, it appears that the NFHS has backed away a bit from the examples provided for defenseless players, and you should now interpret the new rule to mean that the legality of the hit would define when a player is defenseless. Which brings us back to our original point – you would have called the illegal contact foul anyway. Therefore, the change is not as dramatic as it appeared upon first look.

The only examples of defenseless players that are still getting attention are the players who have obviously given themselves up and contact well away from the ball.

What makes the blindside block rule difficult for you to officiate is the fact that if it occurs with open hands, it is a legal block. A question you will have to ask yourself, while the play is happening in front of you at lightning speed, is were the hands actually open at contact? And if the hands are open, were they in fact extended, or were they held close to the body, resulting in the blocker charging through his opponent? If that is the case, could it still be unnecessary?

Here’s an example of a blindside block:

All of these variables create the possibility for inconsistencies in how these fouls are called. The game is so fast that you may find yourself out of position to see if the blindside block was done with open hands. A lack of consensus on what is or is not a defenseless player could result in officials using that language to call personal fouls when in fact the spirit of the rule would suggest otherwise.

The bottom line is that you always had a handful of rules at your disposal to call such hits illegal – unnecessary roughness, targeting, and illegal helmet contact, just to name a few. So if the contact is illegal, it’s a personal foul. With the game of football being a physical one, you will have to be on the lookout for such illegal contact on each and every play.

But in the end, what a foul is this year was a foul last year.

#1: Option of starting the clock on the snap in the final two minutes of each half (23 points).

Harder 4; Consistency 4; Change 5; Learning 5; Frequency 5

While the personal foul changes certainly could be ranked number one based on the amount of controversy they created, the rule with the biggest impact on you is the timing option in the final two minutes of each half.

Now, inside of two minutes in each half, the offended team can choose to have the clock start on the snap when it would otherwise start on the ready-for-play. This is big, new change and will require focus and attention of you and the rest of the crew to implement it correctly. It makes it harder to officiate only to the extent that it is something you need to be keenly aware of as you wind down either half. It also creates one more instance in which you must communicate with the offended team to get a choice from them. When the game is racing to the end of the half, you have to slow it down enough in those situations to make sure that the rule is applied correctly.

As with most penalties, however, you may lean toward the most advantageous enforcement, unless told otherwise. But depending on the situation, a coach may or may not take the most advantageous option.

Since this is such a change, we can see why this could be missed, especially early in the season. This is another reason you and the entire crew need to focus on this when the halves start to near the end.

The rule itself is fairly easy to comprehend. But where the learning comes into play is knowing when the clock should start on the ready and being cognizant of that when the game is moving fairly rapidly at the end of the half.

Also, the rule states “inside of two minutes”. Does that mean less than two minutes, or does it include the two-minute mark? There is no two- minute warning in high school football, so you will have to decide when the rule applies. Most interpretations of the NFHS is that the clock should be less than two minutes to enforce this new rule, and that would certainly be the most logical and reasonable way to enforce the penalty. But it is something you will have to discuss with your crew.

So there you have it. Your new rules, from low impact to high impact. What thoughts do you have on these rules changes, and what arguments would you make for changing the order?  We would like to hear from you by leaving a comment below.

Your Guide To Simultaneous Possession

As you know, football is physical game in which ball control is key to success. For forty-eight minutes, footballs and players are all flying around. And in the course of that action, possession of the ball can change hands.  That’s often planned, but sometimes not.

A loose ball can be hard to control, and in many instances, two or more players may gain control of the ball.

When members of the same team control the ball, the call is easy. But when opponents possess the ball at the same time, the type of play determines who is awarded possession.

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In this article, we will discuss simultaneous possession and help you determine which team ultimately gains possession when both teams “have the ball”.

DEFINITIONS

First, let’s define some key terms that will pop up in the discussion of simultaneous possession. (These definitions are in their most basic and simplistic terms and provided to give context the simultaneous possession rule.)

  • A catch is the possession of a pass in flight when first contact is with the ground inbounds.
  • A recovery is the possession of a ball after it has hit the ground. A recovery occurs when the player first touches the ground inbounds.
  • An interception is the catch of an opponent’s pass or fumble. This simply differentiates an interception from a fumble in that interceptions are made while the ball is still in flight after being passed or fumbled.

It is key to point out that simultaneous possession involves only opponents in possession of a loose ball. Rules covering simultaneous possession do not cover joint possession of a ball by teammates.

TYPES OF SIMULTANEOUS POSSESSION

Simultaneous possession can happen in three ways.

  • First, a receiver and a defensive player can both possess a pass in flight.
  • Secondly, an offensive player and a defensive player can both possess a free kick or a scrimmage kick.
  • Finally, an offensive player and a defensive player can both possess a fumbled ball, either by intercepting it out of the air or falling on it as it lies/rolls on the ground.

PASSES

The scenario for simultaneous possession of a pass in flight plays out like this. A prepares to catch the ball and B closes in to defend the pass. Instead of batting the ball, B elects to attempt to catch the ball. A and B both secure possession of the pass at the same time.

Here is what you must consider in order to get the call right.

  • BOTH players must complete the catch by first contacting the ground inbounds in order to have simultaneous possession. This means that if a player is airborne, he must land inbounds to complete the catch. If a player is not airborne, he must be inbounds to complete the catch. Further, if both players are airborne, then both must first contact the ground inbounds.
  • BOTH players must maintain possession of the ball through their first contact with the ground.
  • You can have simultaneous possession on both legal and illegal forward passes.
  • The ball becomes dead at the time of simultaneous possession and the ball belongs to A. The spot of the ball is the furthest point of advancement of the ball at the time the simultaneous catch is made.
  • Touchdowns or safeties can also come into play.
John Hardin's Justice Smith (13) and Bullitt East's Alex Elkins make a simultaneous catch on the ball.
John Hardin’s Justice Smith (13) and Bullitt East’s Alex Elkins make a simultaneous catch on the ball.

FUMBLES

Consider a loose ball lying on the ground, or floating in the air after being popped out of the runner’s hands. Opponents are either diving for the ball as it lies on the ground, or diving for the ball as it flies through the air.

Here is what you need to run through your mind in order to figure out who gets the ball, and where they get it, when a fumble is jointly recovered.

  • BOTH players must complete the recovery by first contacting the ground inbounds or being inbounds at the time they possess the ball. This means that if a player is airborne, he must land inbounds to complete the recovery. If a player is not airborne, he must be inbounds (contacting the ground inbounds) to complete the recovery. Further, if both players are airborne, then both must first contact the ground inbounds. Remember, both players must be “inbounds” to have simultaneous possession.
  • BOTH players must maintain possession of the ball through that first contact with the ground if airborne.
  • The ball becomes dead at the time of simultaneous possession and the ball belongs to A. The spot of the ball is the furthest point of advancement of the ball at the time the simultaneous recovery is made.
  • Touchdowns and safeties can also come into play.

KICKS

The key to getting this call right is knowing when a kick ends. (That’s a constant theme when we review kicking rules, isn’t it?) We know that kicks end when a player gains possession of the ball.

When reviewing simultaneous possession as it pertains to kicks, the same logic relates to both free kicks and scrimmage kicks. A “kick” could still be in the air, it could be lying or rolling on the ground after hitting the ground untouched, or it could have been muffed by K or R and either still in the air or grounded.

Here is what produces a simultaneous possession when kicks are involved.

  • BOTH players must complete the recovery by first contacting the ground inbounds or being inbounds at the time they possess the ball. This means that if a player is airborne, he must land inbounds to complete the recovery. If a player is not airborne, he must be inbounds (contacting the ground inbounds) to complete the recovery or catch. Further, if both players are airborne, then both must first contact the ground inbounds. Remember, both players must be “inbounds” to have simultaneous possession.
  • BOTH players must maintain possession of the ball through that first contact with the ground if airborne.
  • The ball becomes dead at the time of simultaneous possession and the ball belongs to R by rule in both scrimmage kicks and free kicks. The spot of the ball is the furthest point of advancement of the ball at the time the simultaneous recovery is made.
  • Touchdowns and safeties can also come into play.

As you can see, the keys to declaring simultaneous possession is pretty much the same in passes, fumbles and kicks. All players involved must be inbounds by rule and the ball becomes dead immediately in all three situations. Kicks belong to R, while fumbles and passes belong to the team last in possession. (Or in some cases, scores are awarded.)

Another key is that first contact with the ground does not have to take place by both players at the exact same time. There can be some delay in one player making contact with the ground, as long as that contact comes from the result of his initial action in going airborne and subsequently contacting the ground.

The final key is that A and B – or K and R – must both possess the ball at approximately the same time. There cannot be a significant delay between one team gaining possession of the ball and then the other. If that happens, then all you have is a pass catch, fumble recovery or action after the kick ends. The ball remains live and action continues.

WRAPPING UP WITH WHAT IFs…

What if…

A and B leap into the air and jointly possess a pass. A lands inbounds, while B lands out of bounds?
Incomplete pass and the ball is placed at the previous spot for the next down. Since B landed out of bounds in possession of the ball, there was no catch. Both players must subsequently land in bounds to have simultaneous possession.
A and B leap into the air and jointly possess a pass. A and B both land inbounds.
Simultaneous possession, as both players completed the catch by landing inbounds. The ball becomes dead, and the spot of the ball is the foremost point of the ball when the ball becomes dead. If both land in the end zone, it’s a touchdown. If one lands in the end zone and one in the field of play, the spot of the ball determines whether a touchdown has been scored or not.
A fumbles the ball and the ball is lying on the ground. A and B dive for the ball and jointly possess it.
Simultaneous recovery and the ball belongs to A, the team last in possession, assuming both players are inbounds at the time of recovery.

A fumbles the ball and the ball is lying on the ground, or is airborne. A and B dive for the ball and jointly possess it, but B lands out of bounds?
Dead ball and no simultaneous possession since B’s first contact with the ground was out of bounds.
The ball is still dead by rule because it was touching a player out of bounds. The ball belongs to A, the team last in possession. The same would be true if instead of diving and possessing the ball while airborne, a player dove onto the ground and before possessing the ball, was touching out of bounds. There would not be simultaneous possession; the ball would be dead for touching a player out of bounds; and the ball would belong to A.

R muffs a punt and is jointly possessed by K and R.
Since the kick had not ended, the ball is dead and belongs to R by rule. If any scrimmage kick or free kick is jointly possessed anywhere on the playing field, it belongs to R.

By knowing these few fundamentals, you can rule on simultaneous possession with certainty this Friday night.

Let us know how you keep simultaneous possession clear by commenting. – TC

BY THE BOOK: 5 Things You Can Learn from Toughness by Jay Bilas

How Continually Focusing On The NEXT PLAY Can Make You A Better Official

In his book Toughness, ESPN analyst and college basketball expert Jay Bilas redefines what it takes to succeed in any endeavor.

“Toughness” has historically been defined as akin to taking punishment time after time, and time after time getting up off the floor to take even more.

Mr. Bilas argues that toughness is not illustrated through intimidation but through “preparation, discipline, a team-oriented mindset and belief in yourself”.

One of his pillars of success is concentrating on the “next play” in every situation. That focus is key to constant improvement over time.

You will become an even better official by focusing on the next play.  These five guidelines will show you how.

  • Always focus on the next down as if it’s the most important down of the game.

    Constantly recognizing the importance of the next down will lead to consistent habits, which in turn will lead to repetition and consistency. Such repetition and consistency lessens the chances of you making a mistake.

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In certain games, it’s tough for you to maintain your focus and concentration. Games that are 28-0 at the end of the first quarter are not fun for anyone.

But you can only improve your performance as an official by continuing to concentrate on the “next down”. That kind of toughness – to be able to focus in adverse conditions – will make you a better official over time.

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  • Allow yourself to be coached and take constructive criticism.

Great officials only become great by constantly learning, and part of learning is gaining insight from fellow officials. And as much as you may think you know, it’s highly-likely that there is someone who knows even more than you.

Be tough enough to take feedback from fellow officials. Relish every opportunity to hear from one of your peers on how you can become better.

  • Learn from each and every mistake.

When you make mistakes, hold yourself accountable for them and work to correct them.

After each game, analyze all of your failures, mistakes and missed opportunities. Figure out why they occurred, then take the necessary steps to avoid repeating the same mistake again. Use what you learn as you prepare for your “next game”.

Don’t dwell on mistakes. Move quickly onto the next play with a determination to get that one right.

Weren’t sure of a rule? Grab the rule book and read up on it.

Think you may have missed a call? Review the play in your mind and try to visualize again what you saw. Determine if you need to adjust your position or focus the next time the play comes up. Try to get video of the play to look at.

  • Don’t let the fear of “ending up on tape” keep you from making the next call.

In this age of digital film and social media, there aren’t many secrets in high school football anymore. In those instances where you think you may have messed up big time, don’t let the possibility of your call ending up in front of your peers keep you from moving on to the “next play”. It is at these moments that you need to toughen up and be at your best for the next down.

And if you do end up on your association’s “Midday Matinee” video montage? As someone who has lived through that, I can say that you just have to seize the opportunity to learn from it. Make the corrections you need to and tell yourself that you will get that same play right the next time you see it.

To be the best official at your position is all about getting consistent on all the calls. And now, with the use of video review, you can now get that one play right consistently! And that puts you ahead of some of your peers.

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  • Stay positive in the moment, no matter how chaotic things are.

Focus on the present play, no matter what happened earlier in the game or on the previous play.

Coaches will scream, and players will question you. Be tough and rely on your confidence to tell yourself that you got the call right. Maintain your composure in those situations that seem to be crumbling all around you.

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Becoming a better official takes time and it takes a willingness to learn. It takes toughness.

After each game, evaluate your performance. After each game, define the mistakes that you made. After each game, work to correct those mistakes so you don’t make them again.

Then, move on to your “next game”.

How have you been able to sty tough mentally during your career?  We’d love to hear from you!

Click on the book to buy the book!

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Are You Getting Forward Progress Wrong?

By all accounts, a runner or receiver should be given as much yardage as possible in their quest to get the ball into their opponent’s end zone. High school football is a contact spot, and more times than not the contact will send the runner or receiver flying backwards, forwards, upwards and downwards.

Every inch counts for both the offense and the defense. In most cases, the point of forward progress is easy to spot. Even in scrums, when the ball is hidden amongst a dozen or so players, the spot – although not obvious to everyone – can be pinpointed fairly closely.

But one type of play is continually called incorrectly. And if you don’t make this call correctly, you could be costing the offense important yardage.

High school officiating rules review on forward progress

THE RULE

Before we look at that specific play, let’s take a quick look at the rules regarding forward progress.

  • When the ball is in possession of the runner, forward progress is marked at the furthest point of advancement of the ball towards the opponent’s goal line when the ball becomes dead by rule.
  • The forward progress of an airborne receiver is the furthest point of advancement after the receiver gains possession of the ball if he is contacted by a defender. (If he is not contacted by a defender, then he becomes a runner once he completes the catch, and his forward progress would be marked based on his actions as a runner.)

There are other events that come into play when marking forward progress, such as a fumble out of bounds, but for this article, we are only concerned with a ball in possession of a player.

THE AIRBORNE RECEIVER

And specifically, possession of the ball by an airborne receiver.

The forward progress of an airborne receiver is one that gets called incorrectly the most often. All too often, officials mark forward progress at the spot where a receiver hits the ground after being hit by a defender

If an airborne receiver jumps, possesses the ball, is contacted by a defender, and then hits the ground so that the ball becomes dead, forward progress should be marked at the point of contact with the defender. If you spot the ball where the receiver touched the ground, the spot is wrong, and you have cost the offense some valuable real estate.

Let’s take a closer look at some specific plays.

WHAT IF…..

…the receiver jumps, possesses the ball, is pushed backwards by the defender, and lands with a knee touching the ground, in possession of the ball?

Forward progress should be marked at the point the receiver was contacted by the defender. That is the furthest point of advancement after he gained possession of the ball and was contacted by a defender.

This is the mark officials miss the most. It is not where the receiver was downed and the ball became dead that marks progress. It’s how far down the field the receiver got while in possession of the ball if he completed the catch.

Some others:

…the receiver jumps, possesses the ball, is pushed backwards by the defender, and lands out of bounds in possession of the ball?

The receiver is out of bounds because he did not first touch the ground in bounds after being contacted by a defender. (He did not complete the catch.)

…the receiver jumps, possesses the ball, is pushed backwards by the defender, lands on his feet in possession of the ball, dances around and runs backwards twelve yards, where he is tackled?

At the time the receiver regained his balance and starting dancing, he became a runner. As such, he is then treated as any other runner as it pertains to forward progress. He has become no different than a fullback charging into the line with the ball; forward progress is marked at the furthest point of advancement.

…the receiver jumps, possesses the ball, is carried backwards by the defender, and lands out of bounds, in possession of the ball?

Forward progress would be given at the point of the catch because the receiver was carried out of bounds. The wrap-up and carry of the receiver by the defender amounts to forward progress being stopped once the receiver gained possession.

…the receiver, while over the end zone, jumps, possesses the ball, and first contacts the ground on the two-yard line, without being contacted by a defender?

The ball remains live at the two-yard line and the receiver has now become a runner if he lands on his feet. His actions with the ball in the field of play will now dictate where forward progress is marked. If he lands with anything other than a hand or foot touching the ground, the ball is dead and forward progress is the spot of the furthest point of the football when the ball became dead. Mark that spot at the two.

… …the receiver, while over the end zone, jumps, possesses the ball, is contacted by a defender while still above the end zone, and lands on the two-yard line?

It is a touchdown because he was in possession of the ball over the end zone and was contacted by a defender. Whether he lands on his feet or with a knee touching the ground is irrelevant.

…the receiver jumps, possesses the ball at the opponent’s thirty-yard line, is pushed forwards by the defender, and lands at his opponent’s twenty-seven-yard line, in possession of the ball, and is downed there?

Forward progress would be marked at the twenty-seven. That is the furthest point of advancement for the receiver after he possessed the ball.
The key to marking forward progress on an airborne receiver is that there must be contact with a defender. If the result of the contact causes the ball to become dead (i.e “tackled”), the receiver should be given all of the yardage up to the point he possessed the ball, insofar as he completed the catch in bounds.

Give the young men the yards they deserve!

Please add your comments on how you make the right call in marking forward progress.

See you on the field! – TC

RULE REVIEW: How To Penalize Ineligible Receivers The Stress-Free Way

The game of football, even at the high school level, can seem to fly by at the speed of light. More and more, offenses are running with spread formations in a hurry-up mode. Defenses are becoming more specialized, resulting in multiple substitutions. Teams are throwing the ball downfield against blitzing defenses.

High School football officiating blog post graphic

Live-ball play can be fast and furious. Eventually the game will slow down as you gain more experience. But where you need to slow the game down as soon as you can is during the dead-ball period, just prior to the snap.

Mistakes will be made if you do not zero in on your responsibilities during the dead-ball period. And those mistakes can have a dramatic impact on the final result, perhaps being the difference between a win or a loss for the teams involved.

Perhaps the most critical part of any down is the period between the ready and the moment the ball becomes live. There is lots to think about and key in on – number of players, substitutions, delay of game, formations, number of the next down.

Amidst all of the other things to recognize prior to the snap, identifying which receivers are eligible and communicating that to the rest of your crew is crucial to the outcome.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

If you permit ineligible receivers to wander down the field and catch passes without penalty, bad things are sure to happen. You cannot award yardage – and possibly points – to teams who complete passes to young men who should not, by rule, be catching the ball.

RULES REVIEW

There are a couple of things to remember regarding ineligible receivers.

  • They are not allowed to go beyond the expanded neutral zone until a legal forward pass is in flight, or B touches the ball in or behind the neutral zone.
  • This restriction applies only to passes that cross the expanded neutral zone.

A key mechanic in high school football officiating.

WORKFLOW: PRIOR TO THE SNAP

Here are the proper mechanics of ruling on ineligible receivers, the responsibilities of each official on the field and the communication methods needed among the crew to ensure that ineligible receivers are identified and penalized if they go downfield. To help us with this, we have enlisted the aid of John Peek, an Umpire and a member of the South Carolina Football Officials Hall of Fame.

When the offense first lines up, the Umpire must first identify five players numbered 50-79.

Next, the Umpire must identify those players on the line numbered 1-49 and 80-99 that are covered up.

The ability of the umpire to recognize those players with legal numbers that are covered up is predicated on the Linesman and the Line Judge giving very strong and very clear signals that indicate who is on and who is off the line of scrimmage.

Once the Umpire identifies a receiver eligible by number but covered up by an end, he or she should point to that player. The Referee should also mirror that signal.

The Linesman, the Line Judge and the Back Judge should all look to the Umpire and recognize that there is a player “covered up” and then file that number away in the dark and deep recesses of their minds for quick retrieval.

Here is a photo of formation featuring one end on the line of scrimmage, one receiver off of the line of scrimmage, and one receiver eligible by number (trust me) covered up by the end.

Looking for on-and-off receivers and identifying covered up receivers.
Looking for on-and-off receivers and identifying covered up receivers.

As you can see, the Line Judge has a clear shot of the covered-up tight end and is signaling that one receiver is on and one receiver is off.  The Umpire now has all of the information he needs, and should next point to the ineligible receiver.  All other members of the crew should also note the ineligible receiver. The Line Judge also has all of the knowledge he needs to help in making a ruling.

WORKFLOW: AT THE SNAP

While an ineligible-receiver-downfield call is not the primary responsibility of each crew member, all officials need to remain aware of such a possibility.

The Umpire has primary responsibility for the call, but the wing officials play a vital role in getting the call right.

As a Line Judge or Linesman looking directly into the formation, you should gain a perspective on who is ineligible simply while you are identifying those players on and off the line of scrimmage. Having to look for that should provide you with information on any  ineligibles on your end of the line. Once the Umpire signals ineligibility, you must maintain an awareness of that player if he makes his way downfield.

WORKFLOW: DOES THE BALL CROSS THE NEUTRAL ZONE?

With all that is going on at the line of scrimmage, the Umpire may lose the ability to know for sure if the ball crossed the neutral zone, especially with passes completed near the sidelines. In this instance, teamwork is important.

“This is why communication is so important, as this is an area where we have to work with each other and ensure we get the call right,” says Peek.

How do you do that? A couple of ways.

With quick sideline passes near the line of scrimmage, the wing officials would more-than-likely remain “at home” in their position and would have a great awareness of whether the ball crossed the neutral zone.

Pregame this type of play with the crew, and perhaps leave the primary responsibility of the call to the wing official. Talk about how you will communicate during those types of plays and how you will handle them.

The key will be for the wing official making the call to get a quick glance in at the ineligible receiver to make sure he is not downfield.

The second way is for the Umpire to throw the flag.

According to Peek, “It’s always easier to throw a flag and waive it off if someone has a better view of the play.” As long as there is communication among the officials, a coach will (perhaps) understand one official having a better look at a play. After all, the Umpire has a lot of other things to be looking at.

WHAT CAN YOU DO

  • Communicate as a group.
  • Work as a team.
  • Pay attention and focus on who is ineligible at the snap.
  • Wing officials should give clear, strong signals as to who is on and off the line of scrimmage.
  • Point out (Umpires physically; HL, LJ, and BJ mentally) who is covered up.
  • Discuss ineligibles as a group in pregame.
  • At the ready, take a deep breath and slow the game down in your mind. Go through the mental checklist of your key responsibilities and focus points.

Here is a clip of an ineligible receiver catching a touchdown pass.

The bottom line is that the wing officials, and in some cases the back judge, all have a duty to watch for ineligibles and be prepared to rule on it if it happens. Don’t leave the Umpire on an island to make the call. Talk as a group and work as a team.

Do you have any other ideas to help focus on ineligible receivers?  We would love to hear from you.  Please comment.

-TC

7 Can’t-Miss Storylines You Need To Know To Kick-Off Your Officiating Season

Football season is here, and your job for the next three months or so will be to officiate one of the greatest traditions in American sports: high school football.

A roundup of wha't in the news in the world of high school football officiating

To help prepare you for the upcoming season, we bring you the top stories currently surrounding high school football and the officials who work week-in and week-out to maintain order and keep the game safe.

Please read on to learn what’s up.

PARTICIPATION

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of high school football has been greatly exaggerated.  After seeing a steep decline in participation during the 2014 season, the number of students playing high school football remained relatively unchanged for 2015.  Safety fears contributed to the 2014 decline, but as the Los Angeles Times reports, extensive work to make the game safer has helped alleviate those worries.  (And we cannot discount the effort of officials spotting illegal and unnecessary contact and throwing the flag when it occurs.)

But while the number of student-athletes taking part in football has leveled off, the number of officials calling high school football continues to dwindle.  In many areas, the shortage has put local officiating associations in dire straits.  The Philomath (OR) Express reported on the challenges of finding fresh, new faces to work not only football in their locality, but all sports.  When you read the story, insert the name of your city or officials organization, and I think the story will be the same.  (Keep recruiting your friends and neighbors.)

OFFICIALS EQUIPMENT

You see them on Secret Service agents and employees transcribing podcasts.  Singers wear them, and so do call center employees.  Soon, you may see them on high school football officials all across the country.  What are we talking about?  Headsets, of course. The American Press of Lake Charles (LA) says that  one high school officials association in Louisiana will be experimenting with the devices for all of their crews during the upcoming season, with the hopes of making the accessory mandatory down the road. (Let’s hope song-and-dance numbers are not made part of the pre-game.)

High school football officials may soon be donning headsets.
Soon, many high school football officials may be donning headsets.

PLAYER SAFETY

The safety of the players should always be the focus of your attention as an official.  The rules, after all, are written in order to keep the game as safe for the players as possible. One rule change that has been discussed at length in the upper levels of the game has not reached down into the high schools – yet. But the kickoff could soon go the way of the Wing-T and the Sack Dance.  The South Bend (IN) Tribune spoke to four coaches to get their reaction to the proposed rule change.  Are kickoffs exciting? Yes. Dangerous? Probably. Source of agreement among coaches?  Not at all.

While you talk safety in your pre-game and flag the fouls for illegal personal contact  when you see them, one high school football official actually does something about safety in his spare time. The Hannibal (MO) Courier-Post shows how one official conducts safety-in-tackling training for area coaches through USA Football’s Heads Up program,   which has been  adopted by more than half of the nation’s state athletic associations.

High school football official teaches the Heads Up program
The Heads Up program is being taught by some high school football officials.

FOR IDLE HALFTIME CHIT-CHAT

Remember the players who intentionally ran over the high school football official last year?  (Yeah, which one, right?)  Well, in case you were wondering whatever happened to those involved, this dated article published in the USA Today High School Sports tells you what became of the assistant coach involved in the assault.

And why not talk about the teams you will actually be working with this season?  Here is the list of the top 50 high school football teams in the country, as ranked by MaxPreps.

Have a great game, and see you on the field.

Tell us what caught your eye this week by leaving a comment.

-TC

3 Easy Steps To Deal With Coach and Player Issues

Throughout the course of a high school football game, you are a part of about  75 to 100 plays, depending on the type of teams that are playing and the type of game they have settled into.  That’s a lot of opportunity to have to deal with upset players and coaches, and enforce all of the rules in the 120-page rule book.

Ever the gentleman, the Riverboat Gambler cordially dialogues with an official.
Ever the gentleman, the Riverboat Gambler cordially dialogues with an official.

But there is an easy, three-step way to deal with the issues and problems that arise during the game:  Ask. Tell. Flag.

Here are examples of this process in use.

  1. Calmly and respectfully ask the player or coach to stop their actions or address the issue at hand.
  • “Coach, I hear your argument and will consider what you’ve said.  But you’ve gone on long enough, so I am asking you stop and move on.”  TIPS:  Get close enough to the coach so you can address him in a normal level without shoutingResume your normal position quickly and without further comment.  Don’t look back. Give him a chance to stop.
  • “#84, I noticed that your knee pads weren’t covering your knees at the end of that play.  Your pads have to always cover your knees. I am going to ask that you address that before the next play.”  TIP:  Inform coach of the problem and let him help in deciding whether the player stays on the field.
  • “Coach, you know the rule about being in the box during the play.  I am going to ask that you stay out of it while the play is going on.”

2.  When the situation has not been addressed satisfactorily, move on to telling the coach or player that the issue must be resolved.

  • “Coach, I have asked that you calm down and stop yelling at the crew.  I am telling you to stop and move on, or else we will have to move on to a penalty.”  TIPS:  Don’t get too close, and raise one hand in a non-threatening “stop sign” signal so everyone knows what you are saying to him.  
  • “84, I asked you to fix your knee pads and you didn’t.  I am telling you now that you have to keep your knee pads over your knees or you won’t be allowed to play.  Your choice.”
  • “Coach, I asked that you stay out of the box but you were in it on that play.  I am telling you that you have to stay out of the box or we’ll have to penalize you.”

3.  Finally, when you have exhausted all avenues – respectfully and courteously – you have no choice but to flag the  offending team or player and penalize them.

By following the first two steps, while always remaining cordial, courteous, respectful, and forceful, you can hopefully diffuse the situations without throwing your flag.

But sometimes, throwing the flag is the only way to get their attention and correct bad behavior.  Just don’t let it be your first action.

What ways do you deal with coaches and players?  Please comment.

The Ultimate Game Day Gear Checklist

For your football games, you’re not packing for a trip around the world, or for an Alaskan cruise.  Nor are you embarking on a three-hour tour.

But you are preparing for a three-hour business meeting.  Your business just happens to take place on a 360 x 160 field of grass.

In order to look and be at your best, you need to pack every piece of gear and equipment you will need for your “meeting”.  Just as you would not want to have to show up at a hearing in front of Roger Goodell in a three-piece suit and Crocs, neither would you want to drive 100 miles to the far reaches and find that you left your shoes in the driveway.

You may not need all of this, but the one bag you pack must have everything.
You may not need all of this, but the one bag you pack must have everything.

(In the interests of full-disclosure, I have done that.  I have also forgotten a belt.  And a coin.  But I will spare you the gory details.)

To help avoid such an embarrassment, here is the ultimate game day gear and equipment checklist for you to use.  Grab everything on it – and of course, pack it – and you will be able to drive to your game free of any worry.

HS Game Day Checklist pdf

Let’s face it.  You are probably scrambling around Thursday and Friday mornings, trying to get to work or get the kids to school or make your tee time, and it can be tough to make sure you have everything for your game.  Print it out and keep this checklist handy, and you won’t have to worry.

Special thanks to fellow South Carolina football official Roxann King for providing the framework and items for this checklist.

Best of luck, and we’ll see you on the field.

TC

How about you?  Have you forgotten a key piece of equipment?  We would love for you to post one of your most dreadful moments here.

10 Online Resources For Ordering Your Gear

Now that you have figured out what you need for the upcoming season, you might be asking yourself, “Where do I get this stuff.?” Here are links to ten online resources for you to use in shopping for your gear.

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Many of these sites sell the same items; the differences are, as always, price – including shipping – and customer service.  We have recognized two companies that our staff has used numerous times over the years.  They have never disappointed in terms of selection, quality, price, and service.

  • Honig’s Whistle Stop.  Excellent quality, great service, speedy delivery.  Over 30 years in the business.  HSFBO Tried & Tested jpeg(800) 468-3284.

 

  • Purchase Officials.  It may seem like a trivial thing to shout about, but they have the best game card holder around!HSFBO Tried & Tested jpeg Free shipping on online orders over $50. (800) 767-2233.

 

 

  • getofficial.com.  Started life as the NFHS Equipment Center.  (877) 438-4242.
  • theofficialscorner.com.  Experts on lacrosse, they have expanded into other sports.  A division of Lacrosse International.  (800) 333-LAXX.
  • ump-attire.com.  They began as a site for umpiring equipment, but have expanded into six sports.  (877) 243-1421.
  • cliffkeen.com.  Check with your association, as they may have an affiliate program set up with them, allowing your group to receive a little extra money.  (800) 992-0799.
  • smitteez.com.  (732) 787-5500.
  • Fifth Region Officials.  Web site appeared to be under renovation.  Has provided many great sales prices in the past. (502) 348-9918.
  • Gerry Davis Sports.  Headed up by the major league umpire.  (800) 916-9088.
  • officialssupplies.com.  “An official serving officials.” (877) 288-9933 #0107

Now you are prepared to do some comparison shopping.  Many of these companies are offering some good sales, as we are in the heart of the pre-season.

Finally, create a bookmark folder for all of these sites, and when you need to replace a piece of equipment, you will have these resources right at your fingertips.

Have you had any good – or bad – luck with any of these companies?  I am sure some of our younger officials would appreciate your comments.  Let us know.

See you on the field. – TC

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