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One of the attributes that separates the best referees from their good counterparts is the ability to manage a game. Good game management includes dealing with unusual situations as well as the routine. It may mean doing things not directly addressed in the rulebook and, on occasion, it could include an act contradicting the rules. The latter is a very dangerous proposition and could lead to game manipulation instead of game management. Here are some examples.

Mercy clock

The game was an apparent mismatch. The home team had made it to the state semifinals the previous year and the visitors were winless. Furthermore, the visitors were starting five freshmen due to academic ineligibles. The predictions came to fruition very early. After three plays and out, the visitor’s punter was stormed; he and the ball were hit in mid-air by two opponents and literally run over. Fortunately, no serious injury resulted. The ball was recovered by the home team for a touchdown.

The home team scored with less than two minutes remaining in the first half to go up, 42-0. By state adoption, the 40-point mercy rule to implement a running clock applied only to the second half. From deep in their own territory, the visitors ran two plays and threw an incomplete pass on third down, leaving 35 seconds on the clock. Assuming that the home team didn’t want to score anymore, the referee approached the visiting coach and asked, “Do you want to punt or should I run the clock? The coach said, “Run it.” The referee restarted the clock, waited for it to get under 25 seconds and blew the ready for play. The rules do not provide for starting the clock on the ready after an incomplete pass. The half was over.

Was that game management or manipulation?

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Taking a knee

The visitors were leading the first-round playoff game, 28-24. The home team was out of timeouts and threw an incomplete pass on fourth down with less than two minutes remaining in the game. The visitors ran two plays and let the play clock run down before taking their last timeout with 28 seconds remaining.

The referee approached the visiting coach and asked, “Are you going to take a knee?” The coach looked dumbfounded. A player yelled “Yeah, Coach, let’s take a knee.” The coach then changed the play to “Victory.” If they had run a play, they might have fumbled and the home team may have recovered the ball.

Was that game management or manipulation?

Extended injury timeout

Middle linebacker B1 was injured on the play. With blood on his arm, he was lying on his back as the attendants approached him. He explained, “I’m cramping.” As one trainer bandaged his arm, the other manipulated B1’s legs to work out the cramps. After a lengthy delay, B1 was able to rise. The linesman then signaled a timeout for team B.

The linesman approached the referee and offered, “He asked if B1 could stay in the game if he took a timeout and I told him he could.” The referee replied, “That’s not allowed.” The referee approached team B’s coach and explained the rule (the coach was not surprised). The coach said, “The only reason I took a timeout was because your official told me I could take it to keep my player in the game.” “I realize that,” replied the referee “We’ll cancel your timeout and make it an extension of the injury timeout.”

The referee explained the situation to the opposing coach, who had no problem with it. The rules do not provide for revoking a timeout after it is granted.

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Was that game management or manipulation?

Ready or snap?

Team A leads, 14-13, with less than two minutes in the game. The clock is running when A1 false starts. The foul did not appear to be intentional. After the penalty is enforced, the referee holds the clock until the snap.

The rules allow the referee to order the clock stopped or started when a team attempts to conserve or consume time illegally. Although the false start is an “illegal act,” there was no indication the foul was intended to consume time. Nonetheless, team A was going to get a time advantage from the foul.

Was the referee’s action game management or manipulation.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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