High School Sports

MAKING THE CALL: Interpreting the Rules

Many fans and some broadcasters complain that penalties, such as holding, occur behind the play. How much do referees take into account where an infraction occurs in relation to the flow of the play?

When to call a penalty is the gray area in what is a very black and white rulebook. New officials often have more trouble with this fact than any other during their growing process.

The reality is no one goes to games to see officials throw the flag. We therefore attempt to do something we call “graying out the book.” What this means is that we want at least one of several things to have to occur before a penalty is called:

  • The foul that occurs before “God and everyone” must be called regardless of score or situation, as everyone sees it and we would be made to look incompetent by not calling this obvious foul.
  • Any foul that clearly gives one team an advantage needs to be called. Therefore the play which gives a team no real advantage, such as a hold on the far left side on a sweep to the right, might justify a comment to the offender rather than a flag.
  • Any unsportsmanlike foul needs to be called as the game must be played with good sportsmanship and character first and foremost. These fouls if left alone will jeopardize game control. Taunting, baiting and excessive celebrations are such acts, which need to be called.
  • Finally, any act that endangers player safety must be called. These types of play (personal fouls) include, but are not limited to, blocking below the waist, clipping and twisting an opponent’s facemask.
  • Officiating requires the studying and mastering of the rulebook. Only then through experience can one become more sophisticated in determining what needs to be called and what is actually better to be left alone, allowing for a smooth, but fair flow to the game.

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