Football official on sideline cushion

Officiating Imperatives: Keep a Cushion!

Maintaining a 3-5 yard cushion between officials and players is an important officiating precept, especially for the wings.

Some circumstances require us to close down to the players (forward progress stopped and players in a big pile continue to push each other, QB is sacked, players go out of bounds). In those cases, we need to provide “presence” with our bodies and voices. We need to let the players know we are near. The referee and/or back judge will provide presence when players go out of bounds.

When a runner is taken down in the field of play

The covering wing should keep a 3-5 yard cushion from the players. We are trained to accordion onto the field, and this is correct when the ball is downed inside the hash. When the ball is downed between the hash and the sideline, moving onto the field too close to the players will not be correct. It’s correct to remain on/close to the sideline when marking FP if the players are between the hash and the sideline.

In this play, the line judge runs too far into the players while marking the forward progress spot. He doesn’t need to pinch to the ball to “sell” the forward progress spot (the ball is not downed close to the line to gain). He moves off forward progress to step around a player. There is no need to move into the players. He should stop 3-5 yards short of the players and allow the umpire to clean up the pile.

Here’s another example of a wing going too far onto the field after the play is over. When we get too close to the players, we narrow our field of view. The line judge should have remained on the sideline to keep the 3-5 yard cushion to the players.

This wing moves so far onto the field and into the pile that he almost loses his balance. The wing should stop short of the pile to maintain a good field of view.

This is an example of the correct 3-5 yard cushion to the players. The wing marks the forward progress spot and maintains his wide field of view.

If the runner is downed on/near the sideline (inbounds or out-of-bounds)

The wing should not hop over players, push through players, or close down on the pile to mark the FP spot. Wait until the players separate, and then step to the FP spot. If the sideline is clear (between the goal line and the team box), the wing has more room to maneuver to create a cushion. The wing can step onto the field or well OOB to keep the 3-5 yard cushion.

In this play, the line judge pushes through players to reach the forward progress spot. Instead of advancing, the wing should remain short of the pile until the colors separate. He should only move into the players if they continue to shove each other after the play ends. The back judge and referee can rush to the out-of-bounds spot to help separate the players.

In this video, the runner is downed inbounds beyond the line to gain. The linesman correctly stops the clock but steps into the players to retrieve the ball. The linesman should slow down, keep a cushion while watching the players separate, and then step to the forward progress spot without walking onto the field.

The R and BJ are primary dead-ball officials

They must maintain a cushion when the ball is downed in the field of play. The umpire will not maintain a cushion as his job is to proceed to the nose of the ball.