Sorry for the delay in posts lately; I had surgery last week but am doing quite well. Now onto today’s topic…
Most people Some people A few people I often refer to the men in charge of officiating a football game as “the referees.” That terminology is incorrect, as there is only one referee in each NFL football game, along with a team of officials that support him in making calls. Until I was researching this post, I didn’t realize how specific each person’s duties were, but the duties for each officiating position are quite detailed.
Generally speaking, an official’s job in the NFL is to see that the football rules are enforced. Starting long ago with Walter Camp, known as the father of American football, and continuing through the present day, the rules for football basically have two goals: 1) to make the game competitive and interesting and 2) to keep the game as safe as it can be for the players. (Don’t think that the furor the last two years over the changes in the way defensive players can hit are anything new; at least once in the 1930′s, football almost died as a sport because of the massive injuries and deaths to some college players during games.) The original method of selecting officials - that is, the team that was the home team provided the officials – didn’t last very long. Without unbiased officials, there would be no way to ensure that the games would be played fairly by both sides. They play a very important role in any football game.
There are seven officials on the field at each NFL game, along with one replay official who is somewhere in a booth above the stadium field.
The head of the team is the referee. He is the only official who wears a white hat, and he basically has the final say as to what call is made on the field. He is the person you see on television announcing what rule infraction (called a penalty) is being called, and on what team it is being called. He also has the often unenviable job of explaining the penalty to the offending team. He also pays special attention to the legality of hits on the quarterback.
Also present on the field are an umpire, a head linesman, a line judge, a back judge, a field judge, and a side judge. The position of each official prior to the play is roughly as shown in this diagram:
The umpire (U) checks out the players’ equipment and makes sure it is legal, and he watches play along the line of scrimmage, and makes sure that the offensive team has no more than 11 players on the field for any play.
The head linesman (H)also watches the line of scrimmage to be sure that no-one jumps over the line before the ball is hiked. He also decides whether players are out-of-bounds on his side of the field.
The line judge (L) is across from the head linesman and is required to watch for illegal motion and illegal shifts. He also supervises the timing of the game; if the game clock is not working, he times the game manually from the field. He lets the referee know when the quarters are over, and he signals the referee for the two-minute warning. He also tells the home team’s head coach when five minutes are left in the half. In addition, he generally helps out wherever he might be needed.
The back judge (B) is in charge of making sure that the defensive team has no more than 11 players on the field, and watches all of the eligible receivers on his side, including making calls about pass completion and pass interference.
The field judge (F) who lines up on the other side of the field from the back judge, also makes sure that the defensive team has no more than 11 players on the field, and watches the eligible receivers on his side. In addition, the field judge also is responsible for the 40/25 second clock. In the NFL, when a play ends, the team with the ball has 40 seconds to begin another play before it is called for delay of game. In addition, if the clock stops due to a reason other than the end of the play (such as measurements or calling penalties), the team with the ball has 25 seconds to begin their next play when the clock restarts.
Finally, the side judge (S) is basically another back judge placed downfield. He helps monitor the play downfield, and, along with the umpire, lines up under the goalpost and decides whether field goals and extra points are legal.
The replay official is the only official not on the field. It is his job to notify the referee during the final two minutes of each half if there is a play that needs to be reviewed on instant replay, and (this is new this year) his job to review every scoring play and let the referee know if there is something in the scoring play the referee should review. He also, I believe but am not certain, may assist the referee during the portions of each game during which the coaches can challenge certain rulings on the field. What I am certain of is that the final call always comes from the referee on the field.
So there you have it – eight men charged with keeping 22 men, most of whom are bigger and stronger than they are, within the rules throughout the entire football game. The lead official is the referee, while the umpire, line judge, head linesmen, field judge, back judge, side judge and replay official support him in their own specific areas of responsibilities. They put a lot of hard work into every game, so even when you don’t agree with the referees’… oops, I mean officials’ calls, (and every fan should have the right to respectfully disagree; that’s half the fun of watching!) you should at least respect them for the hard job they do.
Till next time, may your games be exciting and your teams win!