Central Kentucky Football Officials Association

16 Unwritten Rules of Officiating

When you “think” you saw something, YOU DIDN’T.
There are times you will be focused on action in your coverage area but something on the farthest edge of your peripheral vision will draw your attention. “Gee whiz,” you’ll say to yourself. “That looked like a foul, but I didn’t see the whole thing. My gut says it was a foul. Better safe than sorry. I’m gonna call it.”

Missing a call is never a positive thing. But most assigners, coordinators and observers will tell you that failing to call something that did occur is more acceptable than calling something you aren’t absolutely positive happened.

Gut feeling is a valuable officiating tool. Many times your instincts will guide you in the right direction. But your eyes trump all. See what you call and call only what you see. Period.

The CAPTAIN is not always the team leader.
For whatever reason, the so-called team leader or “captain” can sometimes be anything but a player that will help you to defuse a situation and respond positively with other players during a game. That player can often be the one causing problems for you and others.

When that’s the case, make every effort to demote that captain. Tell the coach that you need another player to serve as captain because the current captain isn’t doing his or her job. Or tell the captain that he or she will no longer be serving as the leader for his or her team for that game because of his or her actions.

Just because a player attends a captains’ meeting before the game doesn’t mean that he or she will be the player with the best sportsmanship.

Keep the game MOVING.
There are few officials who want to be on the field or court for a really long game.

However, there are some games that are just going to be longer than others. That football game that features two teams that throw the ball on every down and have porous defenses can result in a 63-60 shootout that legitimately takes every bit of three hours to finish.

What is not acceptable is for officials to be the cause of a game going long. Do everything possible to make a dead ball live again or to get the clock running as soon as possible.

That doesn’t mean neglecting important duties or rushing teams. It does mean being efficient with recording substitutions or enforcing penalties, hustling to your next position and getting the next play started or the next pitch thrown.

Provide COURTESY to players when it’s needed.
While an official should strive to keep the game moving, there are times when you need to it slow down. A baseball or softball catcher works extremely hard during a game and that hard work generally keeps you from getting hit.

So when you see him or her get hit and in pain (but not enough to bring out the certified athletic trainer), take some extra time dust off a clean plate or walk the ball out to the pitcher.

Buy that catcher a few minutes and, in turn, he or she will probably appreciate it and work even harder for you the rest of the game.

The same thing can sometimes apply to other sports when tensions get high. Take a moment to put the ball in play and use that time to give a friendly reminder as opposed to a premature penalty. When you feel the situation has had a moment to calm down, blow the whistle and get the game moving.

Give a LONGER LEASH to those in charge.
Maybe more important is the flip side of this rule: Those who aren’t in charge don’t get a long leash. Yes, you should listen to head coaches and managers who give their thoughts to you about a call or situation — as long as they don’t cross the line. Communication, including listening to perceived grievances, is part of game management.

But assistant coaches, players and other bench personnel should not be given the same patience or privilege. Unsportsmanlike talk and actions by those individuals need to be addressed right away. If warranted, you can give head coaches a chance to take care of other game participants. But if they don’t take care of business, you need to step up and penalize appropriately.

There has to be some form of hierarchy of tolerance. And head coaches are at the top. Use preventive officiating whenever you can and tolerate a bit more from them. Work with them until their behavior becomes a distraction.

Give the BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT to those who have earned respect.
There will be times ”probably in every game” when you get questioned on a decision you made or a penalty you called. How you respond to that question should be determined in part by how you are asked.

Think about the ranting, raving head coach. Anything that doesn’t go exactly how he or she wants, and the blame is pointed toward you or your crewmates. You are to blame for his or her team’s woes. Now think about the coach who worries about his or her team throughout the game but doesn’t get upset at you when penalties are reported. Instead, that coach focuses on “coaching” his or her players.

In a tight moment, both coaches question a call. The coach who doesn’t go ballistic on every call deserves a more thorough response than the lunatic. It is as simple as that.

Because it is so out of character for that calmer head coach to question a call, maybe he or she saw something that didn’t make sense or was done wrong by the rule. Taking the time to acknowledge the concern or clarify a ruling is time well-spent. The ranter may have seen the same thing, but doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt since that coach has been on your case about everything.

Look COACHES in the eye.
Police will tell you that suspects who lower or turn their heads when providing alibis are withholding information. It is difficult to obfuscate when you are looking someone right in the eye.

Whether you are introducing yourself to the coach before the game or answering his or her question during the course of play, communication should be done face to face and straight on. Even if you are delivering bad news, you will have more credibility and gain more respect by looking the coach in the eye.

Understand that advice applies only when the ball is dead, such as during a timeout or other intermission. If you need to communicate with the coach during play, keep your eyes on the action and wait for action to cease.

WHEN IN DOUBT, do what is expected.
An official takes on the task of applying mainly descriptive rules to fluid situations, but there are times in games when that official may not be immediately certain what action to take after observing a play or an incident. Rulebooks will spell out the intent and guiding principles of the rules and the better officials figure out how to apply them equitably, in context. But there are times when an official faces doubt at the moment he or she is expected to make a call or no-call. When that happens, it’s best to do what is expected.

Does it appear that a player sustained a possible concussion even though he or she does not have a loss of consciousness after a play? If there is any doubt, it is best to take that player out of the game to get checked. Should a baseball or softball umpire call a borderline pitch a ball or strike? It is expected that the umpire follow through by calling that pitch a strike. A basketball referee may have doubt when two players collide and go flying to the floor. Block or charge? Rule one or the other.

In any event, do not try to run away from the play or shrug your shoulders. You’ll lose credibility fast.

Officials will never be 100 percent sure of what they see 100 percent of the time. That’s not humanly possible. In those gray-area moments when a call is necessary, do what is expected and make the call or ruling with a clear conscience.

Answer QUESTIONS, not statements.
“That’s a bad call.” “That was a interference.” “He pushed him.”

What do all those comments have in common? Ding, ding. You’re correct if you answered, “They are statements that coaches say/yell/shout, etc.”

Coaches say a lot to officials during a game. And much of what they have to say, whether it is a valid point or not, does not need a response. Statements don’t need an answer from officials. Often the only time you need to respond to a statement is when you are delivering a warning or a penalty for one that crosses the line.

What deserves a respectful response when time permits is a legitimate question. Officials can save themselves a lot of headaches and heartburn by answering only what is asked.

Don’t answer the question you don’t have INFORMATION about.
You don’t need to answer every question, though. That most often relates to a coach asking a question about a play called by a crewmember. If you don’t know what happened, don’t guess. If you don’t have information, tell the coach you’ll find out for him or her at halftime or suggest the coach talk to your partner. Whatever you do, make sure you are supportive of your partner.

Sometimes a coach or player may ask you about a rule or situation that you are not sure about. If you don’t have the knowledge or information you need, don’t guess at the answer. You’ll lose all credibility if you answer the question wrong. Instead, seek assistance from a partner or find out the answer after the game and get back to the coach. Then vow to study the rules more, so that you can answer that question that might come up in the future.

Get the game going after a MISTAKE or EJECTION.
Sure, ejections and mistakes are a big deal. But it is the responsibility of officials to make sure they don’t become a huge deal and negatively impact a game.

When your game has a situation, such as an ejection or a rule controversy, the best thing you can do is to get the next pitch thrown or the next play started. Once game action resumes, players, coaches and fans will typically worry about that action and forget about the situation that caused the problem in the first place.

While participants will be forced to move on when action resumes, officials should keep the mistake/ejection in the back of their mind. Don’t dwell on what happened but keep in mind that it could lead to future issues. Managing the game by making sure your presence is felt even more after ejections for fighting, for example, is a good way to prevent future problems.

CREW TALKS should lean toward official with angle or experience.
Because coverage areas sometimes overlap, there are going to be situations in which more than one official has a call. What happens when you’re the other official and those calls conflict? If you are in the role of ultimate decision-maker, which way do you go?

To begin, the officials involved must express certainty. If either indicates doubt, go with the other crewmember. “I think” is not acceptable. There is a difference between calls and opinions.

If neither backs down, consider the angle or proximity to the play. Was one official significantly closer than the other? Was one straightlined? Position and distance are key considerations.

If you’re still at an impasse, lean toward the more experienced official who has likely seen that play more often and knows how best to cover it.

Be 100 percent sure if making the UNEXPECTED CALL.
Several years ago, a baseball state championship turned on a base umpire’s call. With two out, a player whose double seemingly drove in the winning run was called out for missing first base. The run was nullified, the inning ended and that team wound up losing the title.

The coach argued, but within the bounds of sportsmanship, asking the umpire if he was certain. “I am positive,” the umpire said. “I would never make that call unless I was absolutely sure.”

Afterward, the coach acknowledged the umpire. “He’s a good umpire,” the coach said. “If he was that sure, he must have seen it.”

It’s never a good idea to enforce an arcane rule just to let everyone know that you know the book. But if it needs to be called, sell it and be prepared to back it up with confidence. The more unusual the situation, the more sure you must be.

Don’t insert yourself or disrupt GAME RHYTHM if it’s not necessary.
Back off. If you’re an official ” no matter the sport” and you somehow don’t feel “in the game” because little if anything to rule on has occurred in your coverage area, back off. Don’t be that official with a quick whistle or flag, looking for something, any kind of violation or penalty, to make it look like you’re “in the game.” Back off. It’s better for you, the crew and the game.

Many officials think they aren’t doing their job if they don’t enforce the rules, especially if they haven’t been heard from early in a game or an extended period of time during the game. It will be an uncomfortable situation for many, but the better officials know when to stay out of the way and call only what needs to be called. Under no circumstances should an official ignore fouls that involve safety of the players, but being too quick to insert yourself when you don’t need to will result in too many flags or whistles for minor violations or for phantom violations that are better handled with preventive officiating.

Making a call or ruling can be very straightforward and easy. But withholding a flag or whistle in a situation that is close but doesn’t warrant you to stop the game takes discipline and confidence. At some point the game will need you and when it does, be ready. In the meantime, back off.

Let the PLAYERS help you make the call.
Generally, players are not award-winning actors. And as you go down from the professional level, to college, to high school and eventually to sub-varsity, the acting skills are dramatically worse.

One of the toughest calls to get right in baseball or softball is the high-and-tight pitch that may have hit the bat or the hand first. Read the batter’s reaction: If the batter immediately screams, “Ouch!” and drops the bat, there’s a pretty good chance it hit his or her hand. But if the batter doesn’t react as the ball rolls into fair territory, in all likelihood, it’s a fair ball. Read the reaction of the player and use that to provide you the additional information to make a correct call.

If a player hustles to save a ball from going out of bounds, even if you didn’t see which player it touched last, you have an indication of the right call.

In this age of flopping and diving, the “rule” is a little tougher, but reading players’ initial reaction to many plays will often still help you when you need it.

When a game is obviously over, CONCENTRATION needs to be stronger.
In most any sport, there are games that are decided early on, sometimes in the first quarter or early innings. It’s about that time when teams will start going through the motions, if they haven’t already, and that makes it easy for officials to do the same.

Thoughts of home, work, meetings or your next game can easily grab your attention instead of the game in front of you. That’s the time to increase your focus as much as possible. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by anything. Focus on the game and use it as an opportunity to improve.

A blowout situation offers officials the perfect time to work on certain mechanics or habits or to experiment.

Above all, don’t physically quit on the game. Continue to hustle even though you may have the urge to loaf. Apply personal pride, vanity or your competitive streak. Draw upon any inner strength or collection of emotions or memories to stay in the game. Do anything necessary to keep your focus and not let up.

Officiating Philosophy

Introduction

Developing an officiating philosophy is an important skill for success. Officiating is like a three-legged stool. One leg being rule knowledge, another leg is mechanics, and the third leg is philosophy. If one leg is weak, the stool will topple. When all three legs of the officiating stool are strong we have a game that players can play, the coaches can coach, and the fans can enjoy. Officials cannot pick and choose the rules to enforce, but an official who combines both technical and practical skills can support the rules and still not call every play exactly by the book.
Philosophy is not something that comes easy. It takes seasons to develop and it’s something that is ever changing. The best officials approach the game with an attitude that says we never stop learning. Those who feel they “know it all” will quickly be humbled in the world of officiating. With 22 players and nearly 150 plays per game to officiate, there will be hundreds of rulings and judgments to be made, during the course of a game. Football can be a complex game that is not as black and white as the rules make it. Being able to handle the gray areas of judgment and enforcement is critical in applying the spirit and intent, which the rule is written.

According to NASO, officiating philosophy is described as who we are and how we handle game situations. Remember, we have the responsibility to be the guardians of the game. This is an awesome, yet important, responsibility that we have to take seriously. The game belongs to the kids playing it. Remember no matter what age of the kids, it’s their game, not ours.
As we go through our careers we see different types and styles of officials. Some officials know the rulebook like the back of their hand. They can quote chapter, section, and paragraph when it comes to any rule imaginable but have a hard time calling pass interference, holding and other situations. Their technical textbook approach makes them the show rather than the players or the game itself. Other officials hardly touch the book but seem to have a feel for the game. They seem to understand the “accepted” calls that really impact the game. These officials generally are more successful than the technical official but aren’t able to help the crew in situations when rule knowledge is critical. The third official is the one who balances the rulebook with common sense or “game sense”. At the professional and upper college levels, officiating supervisors spend more time with their staff on how to call the game than specific rules. At the lower levels of officiating, the lack of immediate supervision and feedback limits officials in developing these skills. The lower levels are also where officials develop their own philosophies through trial and error and rely on mentors to hone their game skills. That is why officials must be lifetime learners.

Football officiating requires the crew to be more consistent in their calls than any other sport. Whether it is a three, four, five or seven-person crew, everyone must be on the same page and have compatible philosophies if there’s going to be consistency throughout the game. Adapting to the level of play is another critical factor in officiating success. What is a foul at one level may not be a foul at another level. The ability to adapt to the play and judiciously apply the rules demands good officiating philosophy. Nothing will drive the players and coaches up a wall faster than having holding and pass interference called differently among crew members. Sideline officials must enforce the same standards for coaches on their sideline as their partner across the field. Successful officiating is not a science it’s an art. Individual and crew success comes from everyone being well grounded in officiating philosophies.
Let’s take a look at some common calls where sound officiating philosophies are used:

Game Control and Safety Fouls: There is no gray area when it comes to the safety of players, coaches, officials and spectators. These rules must be officiated to the letter of the law. Safety fouls such as personal fouls, clipping, illegal low blocks and unsportsmanlike penalties must always be called no matter where or when they occur during the game. A personal foul or clipping may occur on the opposite side of the field from the point of attack and it should always be called. (I am especially concerned with a personal foul that targets a defenseless player – Head-Hunting). The same holds true for unsportsmanlike acts, which can quickly deteriorate a game and cause game control problems for the crew. Officiating philosophy is….always err on the side of safety in these situations, even when in doubt. Additionally, officials must be cautious in their administrative decisions when it comes to stopping a game due to lightning and unplayable field conditions. In your decision making, always remember you are an independent contractor who may be held responsible in court if you are negligent in your decisions.

Holding: This is probably the most difficult area for officials to master. We’ve all heard coaches and/or fans say “You could call holding on every play!” Very little if any truth lies in that statement. Holding is subjective to the degree and effect on the play. It also changes from the level of competition. What is holding in lower level games may or may not be holding at the high school, college or pro level. What if you called holding on every play until the players quit holding? Players couldn’t play, coaches couldn’t coach, and the fans would leave. It would be you, the official, as the focal point, and that would lead to a very long afternoon or evening and hardly resemble the game of football. When making a judgment on holding try using these philosophies: Call any major take-down that will embarrass you or your crew if it were not called. Even if it is not a take-down…call holding at the point of attack. Did the blocker gain an unfair advantage from the hold? Did the defender have his jersey stretched or have to reach for the ball carrier with one arm? Was he taken in a direction by the hold that he didn’t want to go in the first place? Did the defender give up on his pursuit? These are all factors to help make your decision. If you decide it’s a hold and throw the flag, be able to describe in a few words what the foul was. Know if it was a take-down, a hook and restrict, a jersey stretch, a twist and turn. If you can’t put it into a category of holding…then it probably was not a foul. The same holds true for defensive holding on pass receivers. Did the hold impede the receiver from running his pass route? Did the QB even look to this receiver before throwing to the other side of the field? No effect….no foul for holding.

Formations: The offense is required to have seven players on the line of scrimmage and only the two end players [3’s 1-49 or 80-99] are eligible pass receivers. Wing officials should work with teams to avoid nit-picky formation fouls. Avoid calling the interior linemen off the line of scrimmage unless their position is obvious to everyone. When backs and ends potentially cover another eligible receiver, use your trail foot to indicate the backside of the line of scrimmage. I do not have a problem with the wing official telling a player that he is “on” or “off” the line, but never tell him to move. A wing official can also tell a player, “I am on the line”. It’s the player’s job to know if he’s an end or a back and if he should be on or off the line. Between plays talk to your umpire or referee to help get linemen up on the line. Talk to or get word to the player’s coach that if the lineman or back does not set up properly, it will be a foul.

Play Clock: Throughout most of the game and especially when there is no visible play clock, avoid calling delay of game penalties if the snap is imminent. Get a feel for the QB’s cadence and potential snap. The 25-second clock may be ready to expire but you’re the only one who knows or really cares. When the QB has his team up on the ball and ready to snap, give him the benefit of the doubt. If the problem continues, your referee should communicate with the QB to pick up the pace. The referee should also consider that his tempo may be too fast. Late in a half when time is critical, you have no choice but enforce the play clock as the rule is written. Remember that if the QB snaps as the play clock hits zero, you have a legal snap without a delay penalty.

Change of Possession: Do yourself and your crew a favor. Following a change of team possession (Punt, Free Kick, Fumble or Interception), spot the football on the back edge of a yard line whenever possible. This will guarantee your crew at least one series that you won’t need to measure for a new first down. Football is said to a game of inches but this is the one time it isn’t. Only you and your crew will know the difference. DO NOT MOVE THE BALL IF A TEAM HAS GONE ON 4TH DOWN AND DID NOT MAKE THE LINE TO GAIN.

Measurements: Following a touchback, you should never have a situation that requires your crew to measure for a subsequent first down. The ball was placed at the 20-yard line and needs to get to the 30-yard line. Crews that end up measuring during this first series show a lack of focus and game awareness. Always know the line to gain, particularly in this situation. After a 3rd or 4th down play where progress is very close with the line to gain; be flexible and allow a measurement, especially if the line to gain is between yard lines. On tight 4th down plays, put both teams at ease with a measurement since a change of possession may be involved.

Preventive/Deadball Officiating: The average play takes about seven seconds to complete. The average interval between downs can be 30-40 seconds when you consider spotting the ball and starting a new 25-second clock. This “down” time is a great time to talk to players and coaches in an attempt to be preventive. Telling a player to watch his hands, he’s close on a QB hit following a pass, or a lineman to get up tighter on the line of scrimmage are all good preventive mechanics in avoiding needless fouls. Just make sure you do the same for both teams. It’s said the best officials are also the best dead ball officials. Keep officiating after the play is over by watching the action on the perimeter of the pile. The term “keeping your head on a swivel” refers to watching and boxing in all the players with your eyes until they clear of possible dead ball fouls. Make your presence felt at the end of each play by using your voice and moving to the vicinity of the play. Players who know you are watching are less likely to commit a personal foul or unsportsmanlike act.

Common Sense: Officials are instructed to use common sense when making decisions not specifically covered by the rulebook or when minor infractions occur that have no bearing on the play. Problems and inconsistencies occur because the parameters and definitions of common sense are different for everybody and never clearly defined or written in a manual. Common sense in officiating is a lot like life; one person’s ‘treasure’ may be another’s ‘trash’. The more time an official spends listening and exchanging ideas with fellow officials will strengthen their skills to make instant common sense decisions during a play. A textbook official will call a game literally as the rules are written, but a well-rounded official will apply common sense to his knowledge of rules and mechanics.

Communication: Sound skills in calling fouls are obviously critical to all officials. The officials who rate out the best in their association or position are generally regarded as outstanding communicators. They know when to listen to a coach or player and when to speak. Good officials choose their words wisely
and never belittle a coach in front of his team. Officiating is as much a “people skill” business as it is a rules and mechanics business. If you want respect….give respect. A common theme is “kill them with kindness”. Another important tip to remember is always to bring another official with you when you need to talk to a coach. Having that crewmate nearby helps keep you calm while a coach rants and raves. It also ensures that you won’t be misquoted. Always have that friendly witness in a potentially hostile environment.

Call the Obvious: Credibility begins with getting the easy calls right. Miss the obvious and you’ll have a hard time selling and having credibility with the tough call. When developing your officiating philosophy, work to learn what the accepted calls are… Too often inexperienced officials try to revolutionize the game and show everyone how good they are by making every call possible. Most of these officials last just a few seasons before disappearing or quitting because they do not advance for what they claim is politics or the “good ole boy system”. No one succeeds and advances in officiating by themselves.

Conclusion: NASO said it best…” The best officials are those that let the game come to them”. They see what is happening…absorb the information…take an extra second to process that information…then decide the impact on the play. The best officials know the rules but don’t use them as a crutch. Good officials communicate well with player, coaches and other officials. They are the best at “people skills”. The best officials aren’t afraid to make the game deciding call or no-call. They continually adjust their philosophy to the level of the game and the changes in the game. They are lifelong learners!