Football Officials,

We had some interesting questions and plays presented from last week’s games which I will share with you below, but first I am going to do a quick rules refresher as a result of several questions I have received. Here they are in no particular order:

Rule Review:

Helping the runner: (Preseason Guide) Officials need to change their view of “helping the runner.” Pushing the pile is legal if there is no direct contact with the runner. Pushing, pulling, lifting of the runner is illegal (9-1 p.72). A practical approach to officiating this action is to stop the play once the “Rugby Scrum” begins as forward progress of the runner had to have ended. Should you clearly observe an offensive player come in contact with the runner, you have a situation in which the runner was being aided in violation of the rule (9-1, p.72 9.1 Situation) PENALTY: 5-yards, S44. Some offensive plays, particularly around the goal line, are being built to aid the runner. The easiest call will be when a back runs up the backside of the runner to help propel him across the goal line. Referee’s and wings be prepared for this!

Game Clock Options: Remember, when a foul is committed with less than two minutes remaining in either half, THE OFFENDED TEAM will have the option to start the game clock on the snap (3-4-7).

Play Clock After Foul: When the defense is the only team to commit a foul, the offense is given a 40-second play clock. As you are aware, under the “old rule” the defense could foul and gain 15 seconds as this was considered an administrative stop (3-6-1a1(e), 3-5-7i).

Spot Fouls: I have received several questions regarding backfield spot fouls (10-4-4). Remember, the basic spot is the spot of the foul for fouls by Team A that occur in or behind the neutral zone and are to be enforced from the spot of the foul. They are: a) An illegal forward pass (7-5-2), b) intentional grounding (7-5-2), c) illegal participation under (9-6-4a or 9-6-4g), d) illegal kicking or batting (9-7-1 & 9-7-2).

The enforcement spot for any foul by the defense is the goal line when the run ends in the end zone and would result in a safety.

If the offensive team throws an illegal forward pass from its end zone or commits any other foul for which the penalty is accepted, it is a safety.

Grounding Rule Exception: As we know, the NFHS adopted an exception for team A to intentionally ground a pass under specific conditions. Those conditions are: 1) the passer possessed the ball beyond the lateral boundaries of the free-blocking zone as established at the snap, 2) the pass must reach the neutral zone to include the extension beyond the sideline, and 3) the passer must be the only player to possess the ball after the snap. All of these requirement must be met to legally intentionally ground a pass (7-5-2d Exception 2a,b,c). COMMENT: Remember, if the criteria above is not met this is a spot foul 5-yards with a loss of down as the action preceding the pass is a running play. Where the ball is thrown from is the “basic spot” the spot of enforcement. If there is a receiver in the area, the criteria above is not required for the pass to be legal. The referee should consult with the appropriate official before throwing his flag for an intentional grounding violation, i.e., was there a receiver in the area, were the requirements above met or not.

Defenseless Player: A defenseless player is defined as a player who, because of his physical position and focus of concentration, is especially vulnerable to injury. The player who initiates contact against a defenseless player is responsible for making legal contact.

A question was forwarded inquiring about a call that was made where the defender made contact against the passer (QB in this play) forcing him to the ground. This contact does not require an open hands or wrapping approach to be legal (2-32-16)Only contact against a receiver or intended receiver are required under 2-32-16d.The calling official was in a dilemma as to what was the correct call to use, especially with the emphasis placed on defenseless players. In this scenario the referee simply needs to determine if the QB was vulnerable because of the action of the play, and if so, did it fall under rule 9-4-3g, “Make any other contact with an opponent including a defenseless player (as in 2-32-16) which is deemed unnecessary or excessive and which incites roughness.” We know from 2-32-16a the passer is an example provided in the defenseless player rule. As a referee you must determine does the action fit the rule (9-4-3g) illegal personal contact unnecessary or excessive roughness or was the action roughing the passer (9-4-4). Here is the QUESTION; was this an Illegal Personal Contact foul, (9-4-3g, a 15-yard penalty previous spot foul – occurred in the backfield), or a roughing the passer foul (15-yard penalty and a first down 9-4-4) rules; (2-32-16, 9-4-3g, 9-4-4).

Game officials must be able to draw a distinction between necessary contact to make a legal block or tackle, including the restrictions on blind side blocks, making unnecessary contact on a defenseless player and targeting any player at any time. A receiver is not defenseless even if the contact is forceful if the defender uses an open hands or a wrapping technique. The open hands and wrapping technique only apply to receivers (2-32-16d,). The rule reads: A receiver in (b) and (c), including the person intercepting the pass, who is forcefully contacted by an opponent and the contact is not; 1) Incidental contact as a result of making a play on the ball, 2) Initiated with open hands, or 3) An attempt to tackle by wrapping arm(s) around the receiver.

In the described play above, the quarterback had just released the ball and taken a step when the defender knocked him to the ground (my opinion a football play – there was no delay in the contact). The intent of the defenseless player rule is to protect players when they are at their most vulnerable state. You will have to see this type of play in real time to make the proper rule to guide your judgement call, or no call! Keep in mind when observing (pass or kick) receivers, the defender must use open hands or a wrapping technique to be legal. This is not required in any of the other defenseless player actions.

PLAY #1: Line to Gain and Measurements (5-3-1)
It is third and 4 when A22 gains14 yards to B’s 7-yardline for a first down. A22 attempts to run back to his huddle when he accidentally runs into B45 knocking him to the ground. The back judge observes the contact and flags A22 for unnecessary contact (9-4-3g p.73), resulting in a dead-ball foul. The 15-yard foul is stepped off. Question: is it first and goal from the 22-yardline or first and 10 from the 22? Answer: When a new series of downs is awarded the penalties for all fouls (including nonplayer and unsportsmanlike) committed prior to the ready-for-play shall be administered before the line to gain is established. The line remains fixed until the series ends and a new line to gain is established (5-3-1, p.55, 5.1.2 Situation C and 5.1.2 Situation F p.41). First and 10 from the 22-yard line.

PLAY #2: Intentional Grounding (7-5-2)
Quarterback A1 is positioned directly behind the snapper. (A) A1 muffs the snap but is able to take the ball from the ground and spike it forward as in 7-5-2 EXCEPTION 1; or (b) A1 receives the snap, but his forward spike attempt hits snapper A2’s leg and ricochets into the air. A catches the ball and immediately spikes the ball forward. RULING: An illegal forward pass in both (a) and (b). Once the ball touches the ground, 7-5-2 EXCEPTION 1 is not permitted as the ball may not be grounded legally thereafter using this exception. In order to be a “direct snap”and therefore meet the allowance within the exception, the ball must go immediately from the snapper to the person in position to take the snap without being muffed, fumbled or otherwise mishandled (7-5-2 Exceptions). The spot of this foul is where the QB spikes the ball (5-yard penalty and loss of down). This is a live-ball foul, so let the play continue to its end. Be ready for the unexpected!

PLAY #3: Kick out of Bounds Ball Placement (4-3-2)
K7’s kickoff rolls out of bounds at R’s 25-yardline untouched by R on chain side of the field. As we know (or should) R has the following options: 1) Accept a 5-yards penalty from the previous spot and have K re-kick; 2) Accept a 5-yard penalty from the succeeding spot; 3) Put the ball in play at the inbounds spot 25-yards beyond the previous spot; or 4) Decline the penalty and put the ball in play at the inbounds spot. These are all given by rules. However, Team R wishes to have the ball put in play on the opposite side of the field from where it went out-of-bounds. Question: Do you allow or deny this request? Answer: Rule 4-3-2 states, “When the out-of-bounds spot is between the goals, the ball shall be put in play at the nearest inbounds spot unless a forward pass is involved. If the out-of-bounds spot is behind the goal line, it is a safety, field goal or touchback. If the ball touches a pylon, it is out-of-bounds behind the goal line. DENY THE REQUEST. Do not confuse this situation with the Captain Choice on Placing the Ball (4-3-6 p. 52, and 4.3.6 p.39).


Thanks for all of the rules and play questions. I apologize for the week two newsletter not getting out sooner. There was a miscommunication when it was to be go out. I told a few of you the information you were looking for was in the week #2 newsletter thinking it had been sent out, and obviously it had not.

The season is one-third over and moving along quickly. Keep studying for each of your games and be prepared for the unexpected. Do not rely on just one or two crew members to know all the rules. It is the responsibility of every crew member to know and contribute to the rule situation. Study, study, study. Quiz each other all week.

Have fun and a great week #5 game.