False start penalty

Correct Penalty Enforcement Procedures to Keep the Crew Out of Trouble

If you ask a veteran official to name the top three penalty enforcement principles, I’d bet a dollar one of the three would be “slow down!” Sometimes as the referee, I want to go as fast as possible to spot the ball and get the game moving again. This mindset inevitably leads to mistakes.

The Navy Seals use the expression “Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.” By going slowly and ensuring we perform our assigned tasks correctly, we can execute them with an efficient amount of speed.

Officiate the entire play

After we throw a flag, we must officiate to the end of the play. We may be tempted to abandon our
mechanics after we throw a flag for offensive holding because we know the play will “come back.” We need to officiate the play as if we didn’t throw a flag. Also, make sure the players separate (dead-ball officiate) before moving on to the next step.

In this play, the line judge throws a flag for an illegal formation. This is a live ball foul, so the LJ should officiate to the end of the play (move with the ball and mark the forward progress spot) before reporting the foul to the referee.

In this play, the umpire flags the kicking team for an illegal formation. The right guard and tackle have locked legs, which is a foul (Rule 7-2-2). This is an outstanding get by the umpire. What he fails to do after throwing his flag for the live-ball foul is officiate to the end of the play. The scrimmage kick is blocked and there is a scramble for the ball, but he is not looking in that direction.

Look at me!!

After the play is over, kill the clock and blow a strong “tweet, tweet, tweet” (look at me!) to get the
crew’s attention. If other officials see a flag on the ground, they should also kill the clock and sound the “tweet, tweet, tweet.” It’s very frustrating as a referee when an official throws a flag and then stands over the flag without drawing attention to himself, especially if the runner passed the line-to-gain.

Note the forward progress spot (it might matter)

If the forward progress spot is relevant to penalty enforcement, another official will take the RP spot if the official who threw the flag also marked the FP spot (or the R can move to the FP spot to hear the foul explanation).

Make sure multiple flags are properly adjudicated

If more than one flag is on the ground, the officials should gather to discuss their flags. For example, if the two wings blow their whistles and sky flags at the line, they should hustle to the middle of the field to compare what they observed. If a wing and the BJ have a flag on a pass play, or a wing and the umpire have a flag on a running play, they must determine if their flags are for the same foul or for two different fouls. If they have a flag for the same foul and it will have “spot of the foul” enforcement, they must place the flags on the same yardline before reporting the foul to the R.

Go slow and communicate well

“Going slow” means communicating the foul(s) carefully to the R. Use “offensive team, defensive team, kicking team, or receiving team” instead of “white, red, Liberty, Rampart.” Tell the R the status of the ball (loose ball play or running play). Tell the R when the foul occurred (e.g., during the run, or after the play was over.) Tell the R the exact foul, and use descriptive words (“Holding, the offensive lineman twisted the defender and pulled him to the ground.”) Tell the R the penalty enforcement (“We’ll enforce 10 yards from the spot of my flag and replay second down.”) Explanations must be deliberate and precise.

Penalty enforcement is a crew responsibility

Each crewmember must actively participate in penalty enforcement. Each crewmember is responsible for ensuring we place the ball at the proper yardline. “Going slow” means before the umpire marches off the yardage, the entire crew must know the enforcement spot and penalty distance. Each crew member must pay careful attention to ensure the ball is properly marked, the down on the box is correct, and the status of the clock is properly communicated to the R (wind the clock at the RFP or start it on the snap).

Individual crewmember actions

The LJ will stand at the yardline where penalty enforcement will begin. He/she will not move until
penalty enforcement ends. The HL must instruct the box person to stay at the enforcement spot until enforcement ends (and he/she is clearly instructed to move).

If the box person moves while the U is marching off the yardage and we get the distance enforcement wrong, we may lose track of the basic spot. The HL will proceed to the spot where penalty enforcement will end. If the HL has moved to the middle of the field to report the foul, he/she does not have to run back to the sideline before moving to the enforcement completion yardline.

On our crew, the umpire indicates the enforcement distance by showing 1, 2, or 3 fingers for 5, 10, or 15 yards. We use the “hang loose” hand signal for a half-the-distance enforcement. The umpire will first show the distance to the LJ, then will turn and show the distance to the HL. The HL does not have to walk in parallel with the umpire; he can arrive at the final enforcement spot before the U arrives.

When the HL and U arrive at the final enforcement spot, the U will place the ball and the HL will motion to the box person (and chains if applicable) to move.

Details to share with the head coach

The signal we use to ask another official for the offending player’s number is to move open hands up and down over the chest area. Coaches may want to know foul details or may be agitated and demand an immediate explanation. Do not delay the game to obtain an account from another official. Tell the coach you will get the foul details at the earliest opportunity (and then make sure you get it!). If the coach is insistent, tell him he can call a timeout.

Record fouls as required

For a varsity game, the BJ will record fouls (state associations may have different reporting instructions). At any level, the crew should record all unsportsmanlike fouls (team and player number). If players are ejected, the R will record the player(s) name(s).

The next Ready for Play

The R must ensure the chains are properly set and the crew is in position before blowing the RFP.