Copyright 1996 Jeffrey Leaf

All Rights Reserved

Number 9496

Question: Watching on television, I find it really hard to believe that 7 guys in striped shirts can see all 22 players running around on a football field. Can you convince me that I'm wrong? M.A., Sacramento, Cal.

Answer: No. I wouldn't dream of trying to make you believe that officials see every player during every play. What we try to do on the field is see the action around the point of attack of a play.

Remember, the officials' job is not to make sure every player abides strictly by the rules on every play. Our job is to assure that both teams have an equal opportunity to win the game played under an arbitrary set of rules. To do this, we must see and judge actions that could give an unfair advantage to one of the teams. So, if the left Offensive tackle grabs a little jersey on a sweep to the right side, it probably won't be called. The action didn't affect the play. If the pulling guard holds in front of the runner, that affects the play and will be called.

To make sure officials are looking in the right place at the right time, officiating management has developed a mechanics manual. That's like a playbook for officials. On any given play situation, each official's duties are defined. This is supposed to standardize officiating and make it more consistent from game to game and official to official.

To give you an idea how this works, before every snap, the Side Judge and Back Judge (the deep officials on the sidelines) key on the widest receivers. The Head Linesman (on the line of scrimmage with the chains) and the Line Judge (across the field from the Head Linesman) key on the next eligible receiver in. The Field Judge (deep in the middle of the field) keys on the back coming out of the backfield. Keying means that the official watches that player at the snap and makes sure he isn't mugged coming off of the line of scrimmage. Keys are also watched to make sure the Offensive player doesn't hold, spindle or mutilate a defender just after the snap.

At the snap, the Umpire (right behind the Defensive line) is watching the line and the Referee (the one in the white hat behind the Offensive line) is positioned on the throwing side of the quarterback watching the backs in the backfield.

This consistency minimizes the areas that are missed. As a play develops, however, and stretches over a larger percentage of the field, there will be areas and players that go unobserved. The next time you watch a game, look at where the officials are looking. and see if they are not focusing on the point of attack of the play. I can't guarantee the officials will get everything they see correct, but at least they will be looking at the area that affects the teams' opportunity to win.

Taking it in the Pocket: Remember last season when Referee Gordon McCarter and Line Judge Ben Montgomery assessed a penalty on the Pittsburgh Steelers for too many men on the field? That's the one where Bill Crowher stuffed the photo in McCarter's pocket running off the field at the half. Crowher was fined $7,500 for touching an official. McCarter and Montgomery were both fined a full game fee: $4,009 for McCarter and $2, 826 for Montgomery. According to Frederick Klein of the Wall Street Journal, those were the largest fines ever for an American sports official.

You'd Think he'd Know Better: In Bruce, Wisconsin, a basketball official was charged with disorderly conduct and fined when, as a spectator, he got into an altercation with one of the officials during a junior high girls game.

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