During the preseason, the NFL experimented with moving the umpire from behind the defensive line to behind the quarterback on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Have area referee associations considered a similar move in high school and what benefits and difficulties can you see from this type of shift?
The question for this week is not one that I could answer with any inside knowledge. So I did what anyone out of their element might do, I contacted the authorities, in this case the people at “Referee” magazine. Below is there response to my query from senior editor Jeffrey Stern:
“In weeks two and four of the preseason, the NFL placed the umpire behind the offensive line, opposite the referee, instead of his usual position, on the defensive side of the ball slightly in front of or behind the linebackers. The umpire took his normal position in the last two minutes of each half, when the ball was snapped at or inside the defense’s 5 yard line and for scoring kicks (FGs and PATs).
“The league is concerned that umpires are too often being injured by players running pass patterns or sprinting downfield to cover punts. Aside from the safety benefit, the umpire has a different angle on offensive holding — different, though not necessarily better. When the quarterback is flushed from the pocket and runs toward the umpire’s side, the umpire is in a better position to observe action on and by the quarterback instead of the referee having to run to the other side of the field.
“The downside, umpires will tell you, are they don’t get a good look on holding and other blocking-related fouls, they are unable to communicate with defensive players (an important part of game control) and the inability to help downfield officials on passes that may be caught or trapped. Often the umpire can turn and see that play if it occurs in the middle of the field.
“To the best of my knowledge, no high school or collegiate officials are experimenting with that mechanic. However, the NFL and college have considered outfitting umpires with hockey-style helmets and body armor for protection.”
Umpires line up in the middle of the defensive formation and are more subject to contact then any other official. They perform an important function and perhaps the extra equipment for protection might be something we will see in the future.
The state of Washington has no plans to change our alignment at this time and I doubt whether physically moving the umpire becomes a viable option.