Open-Mic: In Defense of the Football Official

Tim CroleySenior Analyst IMay 23, 2008

Having been an official for high school football in Alabama for the past three seasons, I have a new-found appreciation for the job that all officials perform. Therefore, the following Open-Mic piece may be a little different than some others.


In that span of three seasons, I have officiated about 75 games, from YMCA league teams all the way to high school teams. I have officiated at every position on the field, even from the “white hat’s spot” (known as the referee position on the football field – the one who ultimately is in charge and decides what call is made.)


I’ll go ahead and tell you up-front that it is not an easy job by any means.


First and foremost, the game is sometimes literally in your face. It’s no easy task to call holding on a guy who is behind you when your focus is on trying to mark the spot or decide whether or not the ball was actually fumbled.


Your head has to be on a pivot at all times. Anything less could cause you to get run over, or worse, it could cause you to have some mom screaming in the back of your head.


It is also a great challenge to find your feel for the position you work. For example, the linesman position has a total different view point than the umpire. He witnesses the game from the side, while the umpire views it basically from the linebacker spot.


A linesman’s main job requirements call for him to watch different players and account for different requirements from the teams than that of an umpire. So when one is used to working a particular position and are then called upon to work another position, it could put tat one in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar spot on the field, which requires some time for adjustment.


So parents, fans, and sometimes even coaches will complain about a missed call or a “bad call,” and it leaves you wondering if they really even know the rules or what is going on.


Do they understand that an official may not have seen a particular call because of the situation of the play? And while there are at least five officials on the high school playing field, some things still go unnoticed, except for the mom who watches nothing else in the game except for “her baby.”


There are some who just try to make it through the night and pick up a paycheck, but the good ones, the ones who study the fundamentals, structure, and core mechanics of the game will still not get every call.


I’ve seen some of the very best “freeze” during the course of the game, questioning a penalty or perhaps the yardage to be marked off, or maybe even the correct situational arrangement of the game.


But when it comes down to it, those who do their homework, study the play calls, work on the mechanics, and talk to other officials about improving their game, will ultimately call the game as it should be.


With that being said, that doesn’t mean that every coach will agree with the calls a seasoned official will make. Oh, trust me, even in the games where I’ve been observed by the heads of the officiating departments in the state and received an A+ review for my job, I’ve had everyone for both schools screaming down the back of my neck.


So, I’ve come to grips and realized that fans, not all but most, will eat you up no matter what. When you call a holding because it looked like the offensive tackle was about to undress the defensive end, someone will be there to tell you it was not holding. And when you miss the same call later in the game, another parent will tell you you’re blind.


I’m a fan, and I’m an official for high school football. I’ve seen both sides of the fence. But I respect the official who is striving to do his job in the utmost manner.