American high school football player diving

We Don’t Want to Allow Cheap Turnovers and Scores

Over the past 16 years, I’ve had the privilege of learning from some of the best officials who have stepped onto a high school football field. One of my mentors was the late Ray Lutz and much of what I share in these posts is from his teaching. I can often hear his voice in my head as I recall his officiating precepts.

A notable guideline was “No cheap turnovers!” This means an officiating mistake or timid decision cannot allow the defense to secure the ball when they haven’t earned it.

“When in doubt” guidelines

The Colorado Football Officials Association Mechanics Manual Chapter 26 provides important philosophies of officiating. Here are a few relevant “when in doubt” guidelines:

“The runner’s forward progress is stopped rather than a fumble.”

We’ve all had this play on the field. The runner is in a mosh pit and his forward progress is stopped. Suddenly the ball comes out and a defender grabs it and runs free down the field. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get it right. We need to sound our whistles (“tweet, tweet, tweet”) and sell the dead-ball spot with a loud voice, “Forward progress was stopped here!”

In this clip, the receiver’s forward progress was involuntarily stopped and then the ball dropped to the ground. The covering official ruled the ball was dead (forward progress stopped) before the ball was dislodged. He sold the call with his voice and arm movement. Both wings should have stopped the clock as the runner passed the line to gain.

Hold the Whistle When We Can’t See the Ball

Sometimes we must hold the whistle, especially when we can’t see the ball while the pile is moving.

In this clip, the covering official ruled the pile was still moving forward when the ball came out. He didn’t see the ball and did not know how the ball came loose. This resulted in a visiting team touchdown. Needless to say, the offensive team’s head coach was not pleased. You make the call. Should the linesman have blown this play dead?

“When in question a runner was down and did not fumble the ball.”

Here’s another opportunity to sell our call. We need to pinch hard and with a loud voice yell, “Runner was down here!” Even if we blow the whistle multiple seconds after an opposing player picks up the ball and begins to run, it’s better to get it right later than panicking and deciding to let the play continue.

“The ball is a forward pass and not fumbled during an attempted forward pass.”

This is the referee’s call, and as with the previous examples, the referee must provide a compelling incomplete signal.

“The pass is forward rather than a backward pass when thrown in or behind the neutral zone.”

It will be an incomplete pass rather than a scramble for a ball that should have been ruled incomplete.

This is always a tough play to officiate. The Colorado Mechanics Manual states the wing facing the pass going away will rule on the pass’s direction. Sometimes that wing will be blocked by linemen, especially if the quarterback takes only a few steps backward. In my opinion, both wings should have equal responsibility to rule on the direction of the pass.

Take a look at this play. You make the call. The crew ruled this was a backward pass recovered by the defense.

“During a kick the player has not touched rather than touched the ball.”

Again, no cheap turnovers. When in doubt, the receiver did not touch the ball, so the kicking team will not possess the ball if they recover.