Where do high school referees draw the line in what constitutes an unnecessary roughness penalty?
Unnecessary roughness is defined in the rule book under rule 9-4 and includes such acts as fighting, intentionally contacting an official, kicking or swinging a foot, shin or knee into an opponent, blocking or tackling using the helmet as the point of contact, etc. All these acts are fairly obvious when observed and should be called consistently without exception.
Unnecessary roughness also includes protecting passers and kickers, holders and the snappers on long snaps when in kick formation.
These areas are where more judgment comes into play. Is it roughing or running into the kicker? Did the passer have a chance to protect himself after delivering the ball? Did the rusher have a chance to avoid contact when a pass or kick is clearly away? All these situations require a judgment to be made, and though we strive for consistency, just like in baseball where each official may have their own interpretation of the strike zone, officials may have a different tolerance level. Because sportsmanship is such a concern when playing high school football, we would rather error on the side of a penalty as opposed to “letting something go” that should have been called.