Basketball – No Substitute for Awareness

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By Albert J. Battista

There is more to know than just foul or violation. Commonly astute officials might have heard once to have an awareness to what type of offense and defense each team is using. All of which is good, but officials can go deeper with more knowledge about the game and how it changes every few minutes. Two of those deeper understandings are picking up on the personality of each game and the substitution patterns. Knowing each separates the good from the great.

Game personality. We know that individual games have their own personalities. There are conference rivalries, non-conference rivalries, blowout games, games where every possession matters, games that are very chippy, etc. Going into the game, it is helpful to have a sense of what personality the game may take beforehand. If not, you have to identify the game’s personality right away.

For example, Xavier and Cincinnati is an intense rivalry. The crosstown teams know each other, given the universities are within a few miles of each other. Often in these types of match-ups, the game will have started before it actually starts — social media can be used beforehand to stew emotions. In these games, officials need to be aware of dead-ball situations and  an increased likelihood for unsporting behavior.

Conversely, you may be involved in game that is going really well with everyone behaving very sportingly. Then out of the blue someone gets a little excitable on the bench. In those cases it may not be beneficial to immediately issue a technical foul.

In either situation, officials need to know the personality of the game and be aware of the context of the game so they understand when something is out of character for the game. Lacking an understanding of the context of a game and adding fuel to a fire with a technical foul will not help the game. It wakes everyone up and can make the game more challenging for the crew.

Substitutions. As the game goes on, dig deeper to figure out why a substitute is coming in the game. Some reasons a substitute may be coming into the game include: to shoot threes, block shots, play defense, disrupt, give or take a foul, playing time, etc.

Every time a substitution occurs, ask yourself why. Sometimes it may be that the player is in foul trouble. Or it may be the team’s normal substitution pattern for that player to get a rest.

However, be aware of abnormal situations. When a starter leaves the game three minutes into the first quarter (or half) with no fouls, a red flag should go up in your mind.

Throughout the game, be aware of the normal substitution patterns of the teams. Awareness of patterns can allow a better understanding of what may be required of you and your coverage. Know each team’s first player off the bench. Who is the team’s spark plug? Who is the team’s post presence?

Some substitutions to look for:

  • First substitute into the game.
  • Player goes out for foul trouble.
  • Impact substitutions.
  • First substitute of second half.
  • Post player gets substituted with no foul trouble.

The team’s stats help to provide likely scenarios for who and what those players may be. Past experience with a team can also be helpful. In a pregame, discuss who has had the teams before and what they picked up from that previous experience. Who is the key scorer, the key defender, the key substitute, etc. Additionally, know the makeup of the players’ personalities. Is a certain player going to be someone who has a calm head and can be used as an ally or is a player going to be someone who has a hot head and may need more awareness?

Take a situation where a team quickly gets behind, 14-0, and the coach substitutes all five players. Be aware of the psychological makeup of the entire team following that type of substitution. The team may be upset and become increasingly frustrated. No player enjoys being taken out of a game, especially after falling quickly behind. Further, the coach may take the team’s struggles out on the crew. Those are all important context situations for the crew to be aware of and to aid them in carrying out their duties.

A significant substitution situation that crews must pick up on is when a team substitutes out a post player who is not in foul trouble. The team may be trying to pick up the pace of the game, to start running or to start pressing.

Another possibility is the player is a team’s sixth player who is good enough to start but is used as a spark plug off the bench. That can be picked up when you have had a team before.

Others, like former North Carolina coach Dean Smith, played their entire bench in the first half. Coach Smith was believed to have done that to get meaningful experience out of players and to wear the other team down.

Be sure to monitor the beginning and end of the substitution process. Not having the appropriate number of players on the court after a substitution can rear its ugly head for officials. Each crewmember is wise to count the players before resuming play, whether that is a substitution, timeout, quarter break or halftime intermission.

Further, you must know the substitution rules. When a player is replaced, he or she cannot re-enter until the clock has legally started and time has gone off the clock. In order to correctly officiate, know who was subbing in and who the substitutes are.

There is more to awareness than properly judging fouls and violations.

Albert J. Battista, Washington D.C., is a longtime high school and college basketball official, an IAABO rules interpreter and an NBA observer

Soccer – Don’t Flag Referee’s Back

“When do I help my partner?” That question comes up often when you are running the line and wanting to do a good job. Advice to Referees 6.3 offers these thoughts: “Assistant referees should not signal at all for fouls or misconduct that clearly occur in the sight of the referee, that are doubtful or trifling, or for which the referee would likely have applied advantage. Assistant referees may, however, bring such events to the attention of the referee at a stoppage of play.” Sometimes newer assistants make the mistake shown in the PlayPic. They see an incident and know it is not a trifling foul. Without making eye contact with the referee, they raise the flag as the referee turns to follow the ball — they have flagged the referee’s back. As a rule of thumb, if you raise the flag because you saw misconduct (you would recommend the referee give a card of either color), keep the flag up. The other assistant will see your flag, raise his or her flag and point to you. If you raised the flag for a foul that was not misconduct, many referees would suggest in their pregame discussion, lower the flag. Tell the referee at the next convenient stoppage.

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Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/07 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Basketball – Granting Timeouts

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A point of emphasis this year in the NFHS revolves around the proper granting of timeouts. In the PlayPic, team A has just scored a basket and team B has the ball at its disposal for the ensuing throw-in. It is too late to grant a timeout to team A in that scenario. Team A may request and be granted a timeout only until the ensuing throw-in begins.

The throw-in begins when a player from team B has the ball at his/her disposal and the official has begun the five second count as shown. Be cognizant of coaches wanting to call timeouts, but don’t grant it to a team not in control of the ball if the request comes too late.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/07 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – A One and a Two and a …

How to Set and Maintain a Good Tempo

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By Jon Bible

Before a game last season, while the rest of the officials on my crew were on the field handling their pregame duties, I was visiting with my TV liaison. He had watched a high school game the night before and was appalled at its poor tempo. He opined that one aspect of creating a positive image and establishing confidence and credibility that could stand more attention was tempo — crew members, and the crew as a whole, maintaining a smooth and consistent rhythm and pace throughout the game.

I think the first step in ensuring a good flow to things is establishing a time frame for pregame crew matters and sticking with it. Has the game time and site been confirmed? Do the crew members know that information?

Where and when will they meet and how will they travel to the site? Who is responsible for handling what parts of the pregame? Where will it be held, when will it start and roughly how long will it last?

Officials tend to be antsy before a game, and the more confused and uncertain things are, the more one’s comfort level decreases, which can seriously impair onfield performance. To prevent that, the crew chief cannot leave things to chance. Rather, he must ensure that everyone knows in advance what they and the others will be doing and when they will do it, then adhere to the script and insist that others do so. Depending on how things work in your area, part of that may be ensuring that the school or game manager has been contacted and advised of when the crew will arrive.

If some or all officials have defined pregame duties, they need to be carried out in an orderly and timely manner. In the Big 12 Conference, for example, there is a set time when the umpire and I are to meet with the coaches, the ball boys meet with the side and field judges, the game and 25-second clock operators meet with the back judge, the head linesman meets with the chain crew and the referee microphone is to be delivered to the dressing room and an onfield mic check is done. The crew goes on the field in shifts to monitor team behavior and compliance with uniform policies. It is essential that those things are done per the prescribed time frame, and I will notify our boss if something goes awry. For example, if the umpire and I go too early to find the home coach before the game (an hour and 15 minutes before game time is the scheduled time), it can be off-putting to him. That in turn can affect how things go when the game gets started.

Once the game starts, the referee is in charge of setting its tempo. A vital part of that is having a set rhythm in marking the ball ready for play. If that is done too quickly, the offense may not be able to communicate its next play and get the right personnel in. If it is done too slowly, things drag. Worst of all, if it is done inconsistently, no one knows what to expect and things get out of kilter.

A-One-and-a-Two-and-a-ScreenshotMental count. I make a practice of mentally counting after the play ends before I blow the whistle to mark the ball ready for play. If the previous play is a run up the middle, meaning the umpire will likely spot the ball quickly, I count to 10. If it is a play in the side zone or an incomplete pass, it will take a few seconds to relay the ball in to the umpire, so I count to eight. The goal is to be consistent and blow the ready 18 seconds after each play ends.

I’ve experimented with counting to four, five, seven, etc. Last season I went to eight to 10 seconds, and that seems to work well. Part of my calculation involves the fact that my umpire spots the ball a few seconds quicker than most umpires. To compensate, I need to be a tad slower in blowing the ready than other referees. For whatever reason you may find that counting to a different number works better, but the important thing is to count to some number. If you do, you will be consistent throughout the game and the teams will quickly adapt to, and get in step with, your pace in marking the ball ready. That will go a long way toward ensuring a smooth flow to the game. You don’t need to wait the full eight to 10 seconds if the offense goes to the line and it is apparent they are ready to go. In fact, if you do wait, you can cause problems by keeping them from getting the snap off as quickly as they’d like. In a hurry-up offense with the clock running, you want to be sure that the crew is in position and the players are on the proper side of the line of scrimmage. But you need to be consistent in marking the ball ready and not get in too much of a hurry. If you do, you will hurt the offense if you wait the normal amount of time for the ready. When everyone is set, get things going.

Another aspect of tempo is how the crew moves on the field. Sometimes an official has to bust his rear to get to where he needs to be, but most of the time we can glide seemingly effortlessly to our proper position. A crew can seem “not ready for prime time” if its members are running around like chickens with their heads cut off instead of operating in “cruise control,” as former NFL Director of Officiating Jerry Seeman used to call it.

When a play ends in midfield, the wing officials don’t need to come racing in — unless the goalline or line-to-gain is threatened — but instead can simply take a few steps forward to give the umpire the proper spot. Staying back also gives the wing officials a wider field of vision, which is helpful in dead-ball officiating. Also, when a play ends, it is counterproductive to have multiple officials converging on the dead-ball spot. The crew should use the “ring” concept, with the covering official watching the immediate pile of players (and not getting so close to the pile that he can’t see the “big picture”). The next-nearest officials watch action in the ring around the pile and the other officials look at the remainder of the field. In sum, cruise control not only creates the perception that the crew knows what it is doing, but it also results in better field coverage.

Penalty enforcement has a vital tempo aspect. It can be done expeditiously while losing nothing in terms of accuracy. There is, for example, no need to have a crew conference on a simple false start. The referee should confirm that it is a false start, get the player’s number, give the signal (and make the announcement if applicable) and get on with it. Although they are sometimes necessary, crew conferences create the perception of uncertainty and detract from the overall flow of the game. In my experience in watching games, there are generally far too many confabs. If you don’t have something constructive to offer to the discussion, stay away. In addition, precious time is lost when the referee needlessly gives a preliminary signal (on a false start or delay of game, for example) or walks 10, 15 or 20 yards away to give the signal on a foul.

Ballhandling. The crew’s ball mechanics involve tempo. The ball should be carefully relayed from one official to the next, taking care to ensure that it can be caught chest-high and will not be dropped. Nothinglooks sloppier than balls bouncing around the field because they were hastily or inaccurately thrown. The game flow is disrupted when officials have to chase balls that have bounced several yards away.

When the play ends, don’t be too quick to get the ball or to look for a new one from a ball boy; be sure that there are no dead-ball fouls or other problems, get a ball in a cruise-control manner, then calmly and deliberately relay it in. Try to do so in the same manner and pace throughout the game.

Finally, be conscious of the time between quarters, after trys or field goals, during halftime and during timeouts. If the rule says that X amount of time is to be allotted, have someone on the crew track it to be sure that no more or less is granted. When everyone is lollygagging around and timeouts and halftimes stretch several seconds (or minutes) beyond the allotted time, any semblance of game tempo is destroyed.

Pay attention to tempo before and during a game, and your performance, and the extent to which others perceive you as capable and in control will be greatly enhanced. Jon Bible is a veteran football official from Austin, Texas. He is a referee in the Big 12 Conference.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Football Clete – Clete Blakeman Biography

Originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Referee Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

BY DAVE SIMON

 

CLETE BLAKEMAN’S PERSONALITY HAS WON HIM MANY ADMIRERS. IT’S ALSO HELPED HIM BECOME AN OUTSTANDING NFL CREW CHIEF.

NFL referee Clete Blakeman lights up the room and the field. That’s what his crewmates say about him. Tripp Sutter, a Big Ten official, had a formative experience that brought Clete Blakeman’s unique leadership qualities home. “I was 21 or 22 years old and went to work a game up at Dana College in Blair, Neb.,” he said. “I was asked to sub for the side judge, and it was my second collegiate game ever. Mostly I was working Omaha area high school metro games.”

As Sutter described it, he had concerns about walking into a new environment being both the young guy and the newcomer. Blakeman could have made things awkward for Sutter, kept him at a distance. Instead, the opposite happened.

“With Clete, he has the ability to make you feel like you are the most important person in the room,” Sutter explained. “He has the ‘it’ factor, making you feel welcome. He immediately made me feel like a part of the crew, not like an uncomfortable rookie.”

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A friendship blossomed from that initial meeting, with Blakeman eventually standing up in Sutter’s wedding. “People love being around Clete. He knows who he is, and is comfortable in his own skin,” Sutter added.

On the football field that translates into a genuineness toward his crew, the players and coaches. “He’ll never patronize a coach,” Sutter said. “He listens and lets a coach know he cares, but sometimes that call is just going to go against you. It’s something I use as well — demonstrating that I care by listening and explaining something to a coach, if necessary.”

“He’s the real McCoy,” former NFL crewmate Greg Meyer agreed. Meyer got to know Blakeman when they were officiating in the Big 12 Conference, and they went on to work together in the NFL for five years — Blakeman’s rookie year in 2008, then his first four years as a referee starting in 2010.

The 50-year-old Blakeman, who lives in Omaha, Neb., was named a referee in 2010 after two seasons in the league. He was selected as the alternate referee for Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos in February 2014.

“He’s consistent, classy, confident and inclusive,” Meyer explained. “He’s a good listener, and not dictatorial.

“I admire how he conducts himself,” Meyer continued. As an example, he recalls that Blakeman would have his crewmates put their hands on the football together before they worked each game with the closing comment, “Be a man and be a professional.”


Sports Junkie

Blakeman’s love of sports started it all. He was playing everything in season — football, basketball, track, baseball, golf — as he grew up in Norfolk, Neb. Football became his focus in high school. He went to Norfolk High, eventually becoming the starting quarterback and earning a scholarship to the University of Nebraska.

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In his playing days, Blakeman started two games at quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

 

The irony of his high school career, according to Blakeman, is if he’d had to choose a sport in ninth grade, he would have chosen basketball.

In fall 1983, Blakeman enrolled at Nebraska as a scholarship quarterback, along with three other players at that position. “From Day One, I knew that I’d have to bust my tail — work hard, study hard, commit to do my best,” Blakeman said. “There was extreme competition from the start of fall camp until the end of my college playing days. You either embraced the work ethic or walked away.”

Blakeman found out some things about himself during his time at Nebraska — about his competitive instincts and his willingness to do whatever it took to get on the playing field; qualities that would bode well later in life.

“I fought through a lot of challenges, but it built character,” he said. “Coach (Tom) Osborne helped me in many ways with life lessons, and I can’t give him enough thanks and credit.” As a three-year letterman, Blakeman backed up Steve Taylor during his last two years. Blakeman started two games — one his senior year and one his junior year. The Huskers won both games. Blakeman threw three touchdown passes and ran for another in the 1986 game against Kansas.

“I remember Coach Osborne looking me in the eyes and saying, ‘You’re my starting quarterback this weekend,’” Blakeman recalled. “That was my goal and it became a significant personal achievement for me.”

Tim Millis, the former coordinator of officials in the Big 12 Conference, first met Blakeman on the field when Millis was an official and Blakeman was the backup quarterback. He saw very quickly what made Blakeman special.

“As football officials, we typically talk to the quarterbacks on offense and linebackers on defense,” Millis said. “Clete was (the backup) quarterback for Nebraska in the 1987 Sugar Bowl and at the 1988 Fiesta Bowl. Coincidentally, I worked both those games. You could see his personality and heart were bigger than his size. His teammates looked up to him.”

Millis, who went on to officiate in the NFL, watched Blakeman officiate at the small college level, and ultimately hired him into the Big 12.

“As a quarterback, Clete delivered, and you could recognize those leadership qualities,” Millis said. “He’s never cocky, makes the hard decisions and lets you know. People see and believe in him.”


Hanging Out With Dad

Blakeman said he has his dad, Glen Blakeman, who died last summer just before his 83rd birthday, to thank for starting him in officiating. While it wasn’t an automatic connection for Blakeman, he remembers the little things he picked up from his dad along the way.

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Clete had the opportunity to officiate with his father, the late Glen Blakeman.

 

Glen officiated football and basketball, and was well-known and well-respected throughout northeast Nebraska. When Clete was too young to travel with his father, a weekly ritual developed between the two. Clete became his father’s shoe-shiner. Upon his late-night return home, Glen would set his officiating shoes outside Clete’s door for him to clean and shine the next morning. It was a detail that Clete picked up on — keeping your shoes clean and in good shape was important to how you looked and came across on the field.

“Sometimes they would be all coated with mud and I’d have to bang them around in the tub to get them clean enough to polish. He never paid me though,” Blakeman laughed.

“Officiating was definitely part of our world together,” he continued. “He officiated during the fall and winter and he would drag me along to games each week. It was a big part of my life. It was cool to hang out with my dad and be part of the environment. I’d get to ride along with the guys in the car, and just enjoyed being there. I felt like part of the crew.”

The time spent around other officials slowly rubbed off on Clete, as he developed a great appreciation for the rules and a respect for the game. But he wasn’t thinking about being an official when he was still playing.

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It was after he finished college and was about to begin law school in fall 1988 that Glen suggested that Clete join his football crew. “It gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my dad and expand on my experiences as a kid,” Blakeman said. “The transition was unique. I didn’t know officiating would develop into a true love.”

On Friday afternoons, after Clete was done with law school classes, he would head off from Lincoln to some of the smaller towns in the northeast part of the state — Stanton, Columbus, Fremont, Battle Creek. The team environment felt right to him. Going from an offensive football unit with 10 teammates on the field to another team with three or four officials learning together, developing and with a passion for executing well was something he found appealing. And that has continued.


The Feeling of Arriving

Blakeman does not spend a lot of time reminiscing about games and plays. He enjoys them all and gets something special out of each contest.

Still, he remembers his very first season of officiating with his dad at Seacrest Field in Lincoln. “Wow, this is the big time,” he thought. It was a Class A (largest classification) football game and he felt the rush and adrenaline just like he does today in the NFL.

He went on to work small college football after his first year, officiating NAIA Division II games at such schools as Dana, Doane, Hastings, Concordia and Nebraska Wesleyan. That was his training ground for picking up the feel for college rules. “It was very competitive football,” he remembered.

From there, he gained exposure with several Big 8 (currently Big 12) officials, including Scott Koch, Tom Walker, Scott Gaines, Frank Gaines and Paul Brown. “They’re all great guys who are incredibly dedicated to the profession,” he said.

He began going to higher level meetings, expanding his knowledge of college rules. By then he’d worked four years with his dad, who was retiring from football officiating.

Millis brought Blakeman on board in the Big 12 at that time, and provided more structured evaluation and training.

“He elevated my progress immensely,” Blakeman said. “ I owe a lot to Tim, and had the pleasure to work for him for five years and then with Walt Anderson (current Big 12 coordinator and NFL referee) for two more years after that.

“I was fortunate to be able to work two Big 12 championship games during my years in the conference.”

At each step along the way, Blakeman was thinking about what might come next. So when he reached the Big 12, he began considering what it would take to make it to the NFL.

He worked three years in NFL Europe, then the training ground to get to the NFL, from 2004-06. In 2008 Mike Pereira, then vice president of NFL officiating, hired him into the NFL.

The NFL is “college multiplied by 100,” Blakeman said of the move up to the pros.

“The team concept is the most important thing we have as a crew,” Blakeman said. “It’s not about me. I’m the referee, but the team would be worse if I was just thinking about me. There are nine of us working together on every game — seven on the field and two in replay. Everyone of us has to buy in. Otherwise we fail together.”

Blakeman realizes he must see his crewmates’ strengths and weaknesses. “We all help and support each other,” he said. “It starts with me looking in the mirror and recognizing that I need to lead not only by words but by example, that I need to prepare to perform at the highest level each week. I have extremely high expectations for both myself and our crew. In the end, it’s about how we perform our jobs for those three hours on Sunday. I’m a big advocate of the philosophy that the better we prepare, the better we perform.”


Quiet, Confident Leader

Millis said that Blakeman’s leadership skills played a huge part in his being named a referee after just two years in the league.

“He’s a quiet, confident leader,” Millis said. “He has a unique personality. He’s not a showoff or know-it-all. Some guys in his position get ornery. He’s the opposite.”

Terrence Miles worked with Blakeman in the Big 12, entered the NFL in 2008, along with Blakeman, and worked on his crew from 2010-13. He cited Blakeman’s even-keeled nature as one of his key leadership skills. One of Blakeman’s pet phrases is, “We’ll get it worked out.”

“You know he’s in charge, but he’s not arrogant,” Miles said. “I don’t know how he combines the two qualities, but he does it.

“He deferred to the senior guys on the crew when he started as an NFL referee, learning what he could from each one of them,” Miles continued. “He’s organized about everything, from expenses to discussing issues that other crews around the league are having. He’s on top of all that stuff.

“We had a good group our first year, but there was still a learning curve. If there was a better way to do something, Clete would say, ‘Let’s talk about it.’ In his second year, Clete got beat up on his ratings, but you’d never know it. It never affected how he dealt with our crew or the games.”

Meyer agrees. “He’s one of the few guys who, regardless of the game, is the same guy every week,” Meyer said. “He has such a positive outlook; honest and direct. He is what he is.”

Even after a tough game, Meyer said Blakeman retains his disposition, leaving the bad things behind, and getting onto the next game. “He looks at what’s in it for ‘us’ not for ‘him,’ without yelling, screaming or calling you out.”

The crew chief in the NFL has to be the go-to guy and set the tone. “We need more guys like Clete with his type of disposition,” Meyer continued. “I haven’t met an official who wouldn’t want to be on Clete’s crew.”


Family Ties

That genuineness is something his wife Katie appreciates as well. When they met, Katie was immediately struck by how Clete treated others.

“I met this nice guy. He would treat Tom Osborne the same as the waitress serving us dinner. I was so attracted to that,” said Katie, who grew up on a farm in Lindsay, Neb.

Clete remembers their paths initially crossing at a Starbucks in 2007, and being struck by her beauty. “We talked for maybe 20 minutes,” he said. “She was very pretty, and I found out quickly she was beautiful inside and out. She’s smart and grounded.”

In addition to her job with a pharmaceutical company, Katie runs the household. “We’re a good pair. We complement each other well. It’s a natural relationship,” Clete observed.

The Blakemans were married in July 3, 2010, and have two children: three-year-old Maeve and one-year-old Hudson.

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The Blakeman family: Katie, Maeve, Hudson and Clete.

 

In addition to his passion and love of family and football, Blakeman has a law career. He works as a personal injury attorney for Carlson & Burnett in Omaha. So he has to find the right time to review video, analyze plays, study for upcoming games and communicate with his crew in a way that seamlessly integrates into his family and business life.

“He studies rules and watches game film in his spare time, usually after the kids are put to bed, and finds a good balance,” Katie said.

Katie believes a large part of Blakeman’s success in all his endeavors is from his innate personality and how he treats others. “A lot of his success comes from his humbleness,” Katie said. “I thought he might be arrogant, but found he has good morals, values and principles, and our friendship moved onto a relationship. Church and God are important in both our lives, and Clete also isn’t afraid to show his emotions.

“People who meet him find out what a good guy he is,” she continued, “as well as a husband and father.

“Fundamentally, he’s a happy person. It’s that simple. He’s a ‘glass-half-full’ guy. He treats everyone with respect and he makes those around him feel important. People want to be around him. If he has something bad happen in a game or at work, he doesn’t bring it home with him.”

But he does involve his family in his officiating. Last spring he brought his wife and kids to the NFL Referee Association meeting. “(Officials have) become our extended family. So many great people are involved in NFL officiating,” Katie said.

“I get a kick out of watching Clete parent,” Meyer said. “His demeanor with them is the same he displays on the field.”


Professional Through and Through

Two stories sum up who Blakeman is, Miles said.

Typically, there is one locker room attendant for the NFL officiating crew at each stadium and the crew pays him for his help. In Green Bay there are two attendants, a father-son team, and the son is challenged. Blakeman suggested his crew pay both.

“It was cool to see their reaction,” Miles said. “We put the money in envelopes like we usually do, and you should have seen their faces light up when they opened them.”

Miles’ father died three years ago. The following year, crewmate Tony Veteri’s father also died.

“Clete called my wife to get some photos of my dad,” Miles recalled. “We were at Green Bay and he had them put the pictures of me and my dad up on the (Jumbotron). I got all teared up but that was the best motivator.

“Clete dedicated the season to my dad, then he did the same thing with Tony’s father,” Miles explained. “Before we would walk out of the tunnel on Sunday, Clete would tell the crew, ‘Be a man and be professional. Your dads are watching over us.’ It fired me and Tony up.”

Whether it’s meeting with the television network personnel or working with the technician who helps him test his microphone before the game, people agree that when Clete Blakeman shows up, others “light up.”

“There’s a sense of relief that, ‘Clete’s here,’” Miles said.

Dave Simon officiated basketball for 18 years, 12 at the collegiate level. He has written for Referee for 25 years, and currently lives in Grapevine, Texas.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 02/15 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Softball – The 8-Minute Pregame

Concise Language for Three-Person Crew Develops Unity

The-8-Minute-Pregame

By Patrick Keim

Arriving to the three-umpire system at various upper levels is the culmination of hard work, preparation and demonstration of the knowledge and skills necessary to officiate. An example of that is the umpire’s use of the “pre-pitch checklist” as a normal part of his or her game on the field.

The umpire’s “arrival” also indicates a grasping of the greater concepts of umpiring philosophy, an understanding of his or her place in a larger, more comprehensive and coordinated system. Those umpires know that it truly is “the game, the crew and then it’s you.”

Just as “pre-pitch” preparation is vitally important to the umpire’s performance, the “pregame discussion” by the plate umpire can be vitally important to his or her crew as well.

The pregame discussion should foster the idea of crew unity. It should have the effect of coordinating and preparing the crew members coming in from “wherever” to the “here and now” to competently officiate the game together. Through the use of concise language containing the essential concepts of most systems, the plate umpire can have the beneficial impact of cultivating confidence in the crew before stepping onto the field. 

There are many ways to conduct a thorough pregame. National staff members, conference coordinators, camp evaluators, mentors and the respective manuals are excellent resources for the elements of a solid pregame. All will insist that one is used. In addition, the following ideas should be useful when formulating an adequate pregame discussion with your crew.

Consider the use of concise language. Employ widely understood key words or phrases to communicate larger situational concepts. The use of meaningful language recognized and used by umpires can be very helpful. Terms such as “chase,” “bracket,” “help,” “standard,” “rotated,” “counter-rotated,” “shoot play,” “full rotation,” “partial rotation,” “delayed rotation,” “V,” “wedge”and many more can be useful in reminding your partners of their duties and responsibilities in certain game situations. Even the term “deer in the headlights” can communicate a possible scenario that may develop on the field. 

Concise language has the desired effect of condensing larger ideas into “bite-size” chunks for the crew to digest in its pregame preparation, making the discussion more timely and efficient.

Consider tailoring your pregame discussion to the three starting positions. Those are the three positions that umpires will take at the start of every pitch — standard, rotated and counter-rotated. Guide the crew around the field in a fluid, systematic way. Covering the different positions and fly ball coverage, base runner and rotation responsibilities is a very important aspect of the plate umpire’s pregame with the crew.

The plate umpire’s discussion concerning the rotated position might sound something like, “When we are in the rotated position with a runner at first, Jack (U1) you have the right-field line, Jill (U3) you have the V, and I have the left-field line. If either umpire chases, the remaining umpire has first and second, and the batter-runner to third. If neither umpire chases, we have a partial rotation. Jack, you may want to discuss your tendency on a chase fly ball between you and Jill to straight-away right field.” 

Notice the concise language (“rotated,” “V,” “partial rotation”) used to convey the larger concepts. Notice also that the language used should be similar to your partner’s pre-pitch checklist language in his or her position. On the field before the pitch, Jack (U1) should be saying something like this to himself: “I have checked swing, right-field line; if she chases, I have first and second and the batter-runner to third. If she stays, we have a partial rotation.” In turn Jill (U3) might say something like this to herself: “He has checked swing, I have the V, if he chases, I have first and second and the batter-runner to third. If he stays we have the partial rotation.”

In that way the plate umpire’s pregame discussion is effective in helping to formulate the base umpire’s pre-pitch checklist, thereby placing the crew “on the same page” on the field. The same can be done for all of the basic positions and situations the crew may encounter in the game.

Consider focusing your pregame discussion on the particular and peculiar aspects of officiating. What are your particular tendencies on such things as pregame conference at the plate, umpire-to-umpire signals, balls off the batter in the box, hard line drives to the infield, umpire conferences, brawls and ejections? What are your first-base umpire’s tendencies on chase fly balls to straight-away center field (standard position) or right field (rotated position)? What about the weather and ground rule conditions? Those are good topics to cover with your partners in your pregame.

The plate umpire should also discuss the peculiar (for him or her) situations that may develop in each starting position. For example, when covering the standard position (no runners on base) it may be worth mentioning that if the U1 chases, the plate umpire has first-base responsibility, as it is the peculiar instance in which the plate umpire has that coverage. In the counter-rotated position (runner at second) and less than two outs, if either umpire chases a “caught fly ball,” the remaining umpire has the tag-up at second base, but the plate umpire has the tag play at third. That situation is peculiar because it is a different mechanic than ASA, in which the remaining base umpire has the tag-up and the tag play at third.    

It is also a good idea to ask your partners to comment on any “particulars” and “peculiars” they feel are important from their unique perspective of the game. The crew as a whole benefits from the experience of each individual umpire.

With the use of concise language, tailored to the three starting positions, inclusive of any particular or peculiar points of emphasis, a thorough pregame discussion normally lasting from 20-25 minutes can be adequately condensed to between eight and 10 minutes.

The game awaits. The teams are focused and prepared. The crew is ready — unified through a well-developed pregame discussion. And you have worked hard to arrive at this moment. Now go out there, hustle and have fun!

Patrick Keim, Coweta, Okla., umpires in multiple NCAA Division I conferences, ASA and NAIA. He is also an NCAA Division I camp evaluator.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Yawner? Blowout? Guess Again

Yawner-Blowout-Guess-Again-Article

By Jon Bible

Iremember sitting at the breakfast table on the morning of a late-season game between two cellar-dwellers. One official, a garrulous person whose normal speaking voice could be heard in the next block, exclaimed, “How the hell did we end up with this piece of (deleted) game?” We all laughed because it pretty well summarized our collective sentiments.

An important lesson I learned that day is never to go into a game with the attitude we had that morning. The two teams had only two or three wins between them. All through breakfast and the pregame we were thinking about how long, tedious and boring the contest was going to be. As luck would have it, however, the teams played lights out right from the start. They executed well, played solid offensively and defensively and kept the score close.

The problem was that, at least at the start, we did not officiate up to their level  — in fact, far from it. The opening kickoff was an onside kick that was recovered by the kickers. One of the covering officials, however, was unsure whether the kick had gone 10 yards and another one pointed the wrong way, as if the receivers had recovered. We got things sorted out, but it made us look bad from the start. A few minutes later, one of the wing officials lost his focus, got tricked on a play and blew an inadvertent whistle after the runner had broken through the line and was running virtually unmolested toward the goalline.

Eventually the offense scored on that drive and after the try we went into a timeout. The referee called the crew together and read us the riot act. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was something like, “Get your (deleted) heads out of your rears! We’ve got a game to work and we look like (deleted). If anyone else (deleted) up again, I’ll whip his ass after the game.” From that instant on, we worked a solid game.

That is what a good referee will do. It’s part of being a crew chief, not just a penalty-announcer, to recognize that the crew is in a funk and do what he thinks needs doing to get them out it. That said, it’s still up to each crew member to respond by getting his head on straight.

What did I do differently? First, I told myself to block out all outside influences and focus on my keys and engaging in my regular pre-snap routine. I went back to basics, in other words. Doing that makes it much less likely I will be aware of, much less bothered by, the skill level of the teams involved. I also reminded myself not to get in a hurry  — take my time, work in cruise control, process what I see and see the football. When you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off, you’re far more likely not to be able to put together what you see happening.

Sometimes, when you’re facing a dismal afternoon of four seventh- and eighth-grade games, with players who can barely line up properly much less execute well and coaches so young they hardly know if the ball is pumped or stuffed, you need to be able to do that.

The key is to come to the experience properly equipped. By that I mean know your keys, depending on the play about to be run, have a consistent pre-snap routine and know what it means to work in cruise control and not to get into too much of a hurry. Younger officials may have trouble doing the latter, because a lot of that comes with experience, but even a first-year official should be able to have the first two issues nailed down. Then, when the game turns out to be more intense than you thought it would be — or, conversely, you thought it was going to be close and it turns out to be a runaway — or outside influences like bad weather mess with your head, you can get back into the proper frame of mind by thinking, “Go back to basics.” Then, on each play, concentrate on executing your pre-snap routine and focusing on your keys.

That long-ago experience served me well when I became a college referee. The referee in that game was the first to take the blame for allowing us to get into the kind of negative, down-in-the-dumps mind-set that caused us to screw up more than once from the get-go. I know it’s trite to assert that we can’t take games for granted, but knowing it and doing it are two different things.

Referees have to ensure their crews are properly focused before each game and are not dwelling on things like how lopsided the score might be. More than once, when I’ve sensed that my crew (perhaps including me) was on the verge of taking a game for granted, I’ve said, “Boys, we’ve got to work hard for 60 minutes or we’re going to get bitten in the backside.” Usually that’s all it takes to snap us back to reality.

Another quick war story from my younger days. I was on a crew with a referee who did not get along with the league office and the supervisor. Nearly every pregame turned into a gripe session with some people bemoaning how things should be done. As the year progressed, our collective performance became worse. A couple of us talked about how to get us into a different pattern, but we knew we wouldn’t get anywhere with the veterans. At the end of the year our rating was so bad that the league threatened to take us off a big game. That didn’t happen, but the experience convinced me that no good can come of sitting around complaining about supervisors, fellow officials, the game we didn’t get but should have, whatever. All that will come of it is letting your chin drag so much that you’re not mentally prepared to work when the time comes and that will set in motion a vicious cycle that will cause your performance to continually get worse.

I once heard a veteran official say that his stock statement was, “Take each game as it comes. Work each as if it’s the Super Bowl.” Easy to say, not always easy to do, but something to strive for. And that applies to every game from Pop Warner to the NFL. If we take that approach, we’re far more likely to be able to go into games equipped to handle things when they turn out to be much more (or less) intense than we expected. And if for some reason our minds are not right at the outset of such a game, we can turn things around if we take one play at a time, focus on our keys and pre-snap routine and work in cruise control.

Jon Bible is a veteran football official from Austin, Texas. He is a referee in the United Football League. 

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Life on the Run(ner)

Rules Regarding Players in Possession of the Pigskin

Life-on-the-Runner-Article

By George Demetriou

In life, possession is nine-tenths of the law. In football, possession of the ball means everything. There are rules that apply strictly to the person with a grasp on the pigskin.

Only NCAA rules use the term “ball carrier” (2-27-7b) to describe a player in possession of the ball. Nonetheless it’s important to understand the difference between a ball carrier and a “runner.” A runner is not only a player who is in possession of the ball, but also a player who is simulating possession of a live ball (NFHS 2-30-13; NCAA 2-27-7a). A ball carrier means exactly what it implies — a player with possession of the ball. Some rules apply to the runner and others only to a ball carrier.

Play 1: Quarterback A1 takes the snap and turns to face deep back A2. A1 then puts (a) an empty hand, or (b) the ball into A2’s gut. A2 crouches and begins to run forward. B4 tackles A2. Ruling 1: In both (a) and (b), B4’s tackle is legal. In (a), A2 was a runner because he simulated possession of the ball.

Play 2: Quarterback A1 takes the snap and turns to face deep back A2. A1 hands the ball to A3 and continues to drop back while crouched over, pretending to have kept the ball on a “bootleg” play. B5 tackles A1. Ruling 2: B5’s tackle is legal.

Any player who is simulating possession of the ball is a runner. A running back who pretends to receive a handoff may be contacted as if he had the ball. Likewise, the quarterback who hands the ball to a teammate can be immediately contacted as if he still had the ball. The greater the deception, the more lenient the officials will be with the defense.

Simulated handoffs are ripe for inadvertent whistles. The covering official must know where the ball is before he blows his whistle. Thus the adage, “See leather before blowing the whistle.”

Play 3: Quarterback A1 takes the snap and turns to face deep back A2. A1 then puts an empty hand into A2’s gut. A2 crouches and begins to run forward. B6 vigorously tackles A2, knocking off A2’s helmet. Ruling 3: B6’s tackle is legal and the ball remains live.

The ball is dead only when a ball carrier’s helmet comes off (NFHS 4-2-2k; NCAA 4-1-3q). The clock does not stop when that occurs (NFHS 3-4-4; NCAA 3-3-2e). The rule does not apply to a player simulating possession of the ball.

There are a few other rules that mandate different treatment between a runner and a ball carrier. Two involve out of bounds and forward progress stopped. If a whistle were to be blown when a player simulating carrying the ball goes out of bounds or has his forward progress stopped, it would be an inadvertent whistle (NFHS 4-2-2a; NCAA 4-1-3a, b). NCAA rules also exempt the ball from being dead when a player simulating carrying the ball simulates putting his knee on the ground (2-27-7, 4-1-3o).

The runner can, of course, be tackled. If any player other than the runner is tackled, it is a holding violation, if not a personal foul. In tackling the runner, the defense may use several techniques which are otherwise illegal. They include clipping, tripping or blocking below the waist (NFHS 2-41-1; NCAA 2-26).

Tackling is not, however, a license for the defense to do whatever it wants to the runner.

Several acts against the runner are personal fouls that carry a 15-yard penalty (with an automatic first down in NCAA only). Those prohibited acts include helmet contact, delivering blows and unnecessary roughness.

Face tackling and spearing are NFHS-only terms and are somewhat related fouls. Face tackling is driving the facemask, frontal area or top of the helmet directly into the runner. The foul may result from an inadvertent act. Spearing is intentionally driving the helmet into a player in an attempt to punish him and may be committed either by offensive or defensive players. Those acts are prohibited in NCAA play under the targeting rules (NFHS 9.4.2B Cmt; NCAA 9-1-3, 9-1-4).

Grasping or pulling the runner’s facemask, helmet opening or chin strap is also a foul. Simply touching the facemask is not a foul. It is a foul for any player to grasp an opponent’s facemask or any edge of the helmet. Only in NFHS is a distinction made between incidental grasping and twisting, turning or pulling (9-4-2h). The penalty for incidental grasping is five yards but it is 15 for the more severe foul. NCAA deleted the five-yard option in 2009. Twisting, turning or pulling results in a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down (9-1-8). If there is any question whether a player turned an opponent’s head or used the facemask as a handle to pull the opponent down, the major foul should be called.

Play 4: As runner A3 is tackled, B2 (a) incidentally grabs A3’s facemask, or (b) pulls, twists or turns A3’s facemask. Ruling 4: In (a), an incidental facemask is only a foul in NFHS.. In (b), it is a 15-yard penalty in either code. Only in NCAA is it an automatic first down.

Unnecessary roughness while the ball is live is also a foul (NFHS 9-4-2g; NCAA 9-1-7). Body slams, in particular, are unnecessary acts and should not be tolerated. No player can pile on, fall on or throw his body on the runner or another opponent after the ball becomes dead. Horse collar tackles are illegal.

Also, no opponent can block or tackle the runner when he is clearly out of bounds. Officials should be especially aware when action ends beyond the sidelines, where tacklers drive a runner out of bounds. Any runner approaching the sidelines can be contacted legally inbounds as long as the contact is made in a manner prescribed by rule. An opponent is not expected to avoid contacting a runner inbounds even though the runner may indicate he is headed toward the sideline. However, once he has crossed the sideline, any avoidable contact on the runner is illegal.

The tackler’s teammates may not join in with additional contact once the runner has broken the plane of the sideline. Moreover, even if contact is initiated in the field of play, a tackler may not add additional thrust, renew a charge or slam the runner to the ground after crossing the sideline. Once out of bounds, the runner cannot be taken to the ground unless it is the unavoidable result of an effort which began inbounds.

George Demetriou has been a football official since 1968. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colo. 

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – The Player Safety Mandate

We have a job to do. Are we doing it?

The-Player-Safety-Mandate

By Jeff Stern

Photos (and film clips) speak a thousand words.

A video montage created for a session at the NASO Sports Officiating Summit featured players being slammed, rammed, speared, elbowed, forearmed, run over, stomped on and pummeled. The audience, consisting of officiating leaders, reacted to each fresh collision with gasps, oohs and aahs.

Although hits to the head and the resultant concussions have been a particular point of emphasis in football recently, the video wasn’t confined to the gridiron. Athletes of all ages at all levels and several sports were depicted. And that means all officials need to be more diligent in keeping player safety Job One.

Discussing the issue at the Summit were Bob Colgate, NFHS director of sports and sports medicine; Dr. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer of the NCAA and the former chief medical officer of the United States Tennis Association; Steve Shaw, Southeastern Conference coordinator of football officials; and Tom Minter, former risk manager for the Michigan High School Athletic Association and member of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

Jeff Triplette, NFL referee and CEO of ArbiterSports, served as moderator.

Because Colgate is also the liaison to the NFHS football and wrestling rules committees, he sees the issue of player safety from multiple angles.

“The game has changed,” Colgate acknowledged. “These athletes are getting bigger, faster, stronger. From the perspective of officiating, it’s got to change also. I think we’re behind on some things that we need to do. We can only do so much on the rules standpoint.”

Shaw pointed out that for 2013 the NCAA put more teeth into its rules regarding contact at or above the shoulders of an opponent — a foul called targeting — by adding automatic ejection to the penalty.

“That has created conversation like there has never been before about (player safety), and that’s really good because football is a great game,” Shaw said. “We need to keep it great, but we have certain hits that we need to take out of the game. As officials, we must have the courage to enforce the rules as they’re written. As coordinators, not only do we have to teach our officials how to enforce it, but we have to stand behind them when they do put their marker on the ground and support it.”

Although football has been in the spotlight recently, Colgate said it is far from a one-sport problem.

“Right behind football, we’ve got high incidence of injuries in soccer, wrestling, ice hockey, the list can go on and on,” he said. “Each one brings a different perspective from a safety or risk issue element that comes into play. From our National Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, we’re looking at all 17 sports we write playing rules on to address that.”

Even when the rules of a sport allow violent contact, there are issues. Hainline noted that he is also a former ringside physician for the New York State Athletic Commission, which regulates boxing.

“I had to stop,” Hainline said, “because I got so queasy sometimes when I saw an athlete’s head getting concussed. It was difficult to actually witness that. The rules of boxing are very clear. The goal is to create neurological injury. A knockout means that you are so concussed that you can’t even pick yourself up from the floor. And a technical knockout means that you’re so concussed that you no longer have the neuromuscular control to protect yourself. But in none of the sports in the NCAA and none of the sports that we’re talking about is the goal to create a concussion, and I think that’s what we have to make very clear.”

Basic skills and executing plays in the games have been replaced by a desire to win through attrition — being more physical than the opponent to the point of knocking him or her out of the game.

“There’s been this understanding that if you really want to create a fumble, if you want to make certain that you’re safe at home plate, if you want to make certain that you disable someone else so that you make the play, the most effective way to do that actually is to cause a concussion, to target the other player,” Hainline said. “We as a society understand that that’s no longer acceptable. There’s been a movement that I think has been spearheaded by the NFL. The media has picked up on it. A lot of other places have been a little slow to accept that there’s a serious problem when you create a head injury.”

Minter, a longtime multi-sport official as well as an administrator, agreed that rules are worthless if officials don’t enforce them. “Change has occurred. What we have to do as officials is to manage that change,” he said.

What’s the Rule?

Colgate pointed out that NFHS rules committees take into account several factors when considering rule changes. “The first priority of our rulesmaking process at the NFHS is safety — risk minimization,” he said. “When that is going to be tied into any rule that is approved by the committee is, can it be officiated? Can it be administered? We’ve got to look at the officials out there, that may put them into a position (in which a call is) subjective. Is it a clear-cut call? Where is this going to come into play?

“The educational process is something I think we’ve stepped up,” he declared. “I think our state associations have stepped up, and I think the local officiating chapters have stepped up also, because it’s all about education right now.”

Shaw noted that the Appendix C in the NCAA football rulebook addresses concussions. The reason that section is in the book — and the reason it’s important for officials to know it — is that their job in the area of injuries doesn’t begin and end with stopping the clock and waving the medical staff onto the field to attend to a stricken player.

“I’m going to say in this world we’re in today, that’s not the end of our role,” Shaw declared. “In fact, the rulebook says … in this process officials and coaches — not just coaches and medical personnel — shall give special attention to players who exhibit signs of a concussion.

“Now (as a referee) I need to be looking over there into his eyes and say, ‘Is this guy woozy?’ If he’s demonstrating any signs of a concussion, I need to stop the game and put him out,” Shaw said. “The coach may not like it, but we need to get him to the right people on the sideline, the medical personnel, who now can make an assessment (and decide if) we let this guy play.”

While injury recognition is important, officials aren’t expected to be amateur physicians.

“Absolutely not,” Hainline said. More important, he said, is management. “That’s really the key word. The officials aren’t asked to be medical doctors, they aren’t asked to treat, but they’re the group of people on the field or wherever they are on the court, they can manage the situation appropriately. They have guidelines to manage the situation, and I think that in this day and age if there was any sort of doubt, to err on the side of caution, no one is going to fault you for that.”

Offering information can be very valuable. “With 20,000 plus high schools across the country in the rural setting, we don’t have an appropriate health-care professional on the sidelines that’s coming out to tend to this individual that’s down on the court or on the ice,” Colgate said. “Maybe only one coach. If they’re tending to something else on the sidelines, they may not have seen what happened (to the injured player). Any information that (officials) may be able to let (the coach) know. Was this person conscious before they went down and collapsed? That could be a difference, life or death, right there. A little bit of information may do more good than harm. I think we’ve got to be proactive with this.”

Hainline agreed and suggested more education for officials. “You don’t have to be medically qualified to ask the question. You just have to have a sense of what you’re looking for. But for the official to ask, get a sense of what’s going on and to err on the side of caution, I think that’s really the way that things must go.”

Triplette related a situation from one of his games. Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler took a hit that resulted in an injury. “He’s holding his wrist as the medical personnel come out. They treat that wrist, and lo and behold they sent him back in the next series,” Triplette recalled. “The next day they discover he has a serious concussion. He’s out for the next week.

“You come to find out that the trainers are administering to an injured player on the sideline (and) no one on the sideline — none of the trainers, none of the doctors — had seen the hit that took place on the field.”

Officials can and should offer any information that might assist the medical team, Minter said. “If you see a person get cut down and their leg buckles underneath where you know it’s a knee injury, and the trainer comes out and immediately starts looking around the player’s head or something like that, you have positive information that something is not right,” he said.

Warning! Don’t Warn

At one time, it was acceptable and in some cases mandated that players were warned but not penalized for what were thought to be minor infractions. Those days, Minter said, are long gone.

“I think for officials in managing player safety, we are going to need to rethink those incidents where we traditionally have passed on (penalizing),” he said. “We’ve seen the rather rough play off the ball, 15 yards behind the play, or at the other end of the court on the low post or something like that, and what have we traditionally done? We’ve gone up to those players and said, ‘Hey, I saw that. Can’t let that happen again.’ The old talk-to, right? We’ve all engaged in talk-tos. What we need to now look at and determine is, is a talk-to a viable defense when we talk to our insurance carriers? Because now plaintiffs are definitely going to raise that as an issue. … Maybe we’re going to need to rethink that. We’re going to step in on the first whistle when the puck is dropped in the first period, the minute we see something, we’re going to nail people, if for no other reason than self-defense.”

It Starts at the Top

While officials do bear a great responsibility in the area of player safety, Shaw believes they are not alone. “Coaches have to change the way they coach,” he said. “No longer can we say, ‘It’s just a good football play.’ You have to change the way you coach. If it’s tackling, heads up, see what you hit, lower your target. And then the player has got to execute that.”

In addition to the competitive edge that can be created by “taking out” an opponent, players are trying to make hits that will get them on TV highlight shows. Shaw says there is a way to accomplish that legally.

“In (players’) words, they can still blow (opponents) up, but stay off their head,” he said. “That’s the behavior that if we change we keep it a great game and a tough, physical game, but a more safe game. We as officials have to do our part to not hesitate to put the marker on the ground.”

While most great athletes are considered to have a certain “tough-guy” mentality, Hainline said taking that attitude to an extreme is problematic in the treatment of injured players.

“It’s not only that players shouldn’t try to hurt someone else by way of deliberately concussing them, but players who are concussed, they actually hide it,” he said. “We’re publishing a study (that reveals) 50 percent of players from an Ivy League football school — you’d think they’re educated — hide their concussions because they’re afraid they’re going to lose their position, someone is going to take it from them.”

Hainline said the NCAA has an opportunity to add to the body of knowledge by creating a video devoted to injury recognition and prevention. “A video package that has a lot of educational pieces in it,” Hainline said, one that “really just takes you from A to Z about the different points, not only of concussion, but other potentially serious issues that happen on the field. The NCAA has a role, I think has a duty, to do the education.”

The last piece of the puzzle, Hainline said, is buy-in from parents of players and fans.

Repercussions Coming?

In some ways, the injury problem is nothing new. Triplette recalled that President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to ban college football after a spate of catastrophic injuries, including deaths, were occurring during games. Roosevelt conducted a meeting with influential coaches and ordered them to get things under control. Those efforts mollified the president and the game continued.

Could history be preparing to repeat itself?

“That’s a good question,” Colgate responded. “If we don’t take a close look at all parties involved with the management of sport, there’s going to be issues. And if it’s not going to be addressed by those that are overseeing it, I’ve got a feeling Washington, D.C., is going to step into the fold.”

Congress has made noise about mandating concussion legislation. Hainline said the NFL and the NCAA were made aware of a bill that would have prescribed exactly how to manage a concussion. “That’s the worst thing that Congress can do because every concussion is different,” he said. “If we are now saying the doctor has to do this, the trainer has to do this, Congress just doesn’t have the ability to do that. They tried to do that with diabetic care. What happened is we had more brain injuries from diabetes as the result of a mandate from what they passed than we ever had before.”

The Bottom Line

The panel concluded that the watchword is change. Every stakeholder in sports needs to change his or her attitudes regarding player safety and injuries. “Playing hurt” is no longer to be admired; it is to be abhorred.

“I would say to all of the management, and all the administrators, all of the officials, all of us have to change,” Triplette concluded. “This is serious stuff, and it’s our job. It’s our job to protect every one of our sports.”

Jeffrey Stern is Referee’s senior editor and is a multisport official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 02/14 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – ‘Got Him in the Box!’

Batted Balls Off the Foot Require Slow Timing, Luck

Got-Him-in-the-Box

By Jon Bible

The opening game of the 2011 MLB World Series featured what my former football supervisor, Tim Millis, calls a funk-Jon play — one of those awful ones in which something goofy happens in the blink of an eye, but you don’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle so you don’t know exactly what happened. According to TV replays — and it took one after another, angle after angle, in high definition and slow motion to tell — a batted ball barely nicked the batter’s foot and rolled into fair territory, where the defense played it for an out. Because none of the umpires could tell that the ball hit off the foot, the play stood as called.

That play is akin to one involving a pitch that is so close to the batter that it is virtually impossible to tell if it grazed him or not. But it’s even more of a nightmare because unlike the pitch play, which happens in front of us, it involves the batter’s foot (or lower leg), meaning we are often going to be obscured by the catcher (and maybe the batter as well depending on the stance he takes) no matter how high we work. All we know is the batter swung and the ball ended up in fair territory; what happened in between is a mystery. The only thing we can do is to resort to circumstantial evidence and deductive reasoning. Hopefully if we can identify two-plus-two and put them together, we will come up with four.

As a sidelight, in my first year in pro ball (1970), an analogous situation resulted in one of the worst calls (or, more correctly, no-calls) of my career, before or since. With a runner on first, the batter squared to bunt. The pitch came inside and the next thing I knew the ball was in front of the plate. How it got there I hadn’t a clue. It turned out that the batted ball had hit off the catcher’s shinguard and then rolled toward the pitcher. How that happened I also haven’t a clue. But I was pretty green then and anything was possible.

Although there were all sorts of telltale signs that should have pointed me to the right result (the batter didn’t immediately run and the pitcher, who fielded it, started to walk back to the mound), when the defense finally yelled to him to throw the ball to second, a double play resulted. For whatever reason I can’t recall now, my partner couldn’t help me, so we had to eat it. Oddly, no one got ejected. I think everyone was so stunned at how badly I screwed up that they could not muster enough energy to get tossed.

In the foul ball situation, the first question is whether the batter or the ball behaved any differently than they usually do. If the batter runs immediately, with no hesitation and if the ball comes out with some bounce to it, like a normally batted ball does, there is no reason to think anything is amiss. And almost always, there won’t be, although it is conceivable that a batted ball could glance off a batter’s foot without the batter’s or ball’s subsequent action indicating that; in that case, there’s nothing we can do. But if the batter hesitates and/or the ball doesn’t have the usual hop that a batted ball does, warning bells should go off.

Key number one in that situation is not to be too quick to do anything. That is where slow timing is important; as the old saying goes, “It ain’t nuthin’ until we call it,” so stand there for a couple of seconds, watch and process what happens and then sell the hell out of whatever you come up with. If you go with clean hit, react as you usually would — start trailing the runner toward first or whatever the runner combination calls for. If you go with foul ball, yell, “Foul! Foul! It hit him in the box!” and point emphatically toward the ground two or three times like you’re 100 percent sure. You know you’re not, but you can’t let them think that or they will crucify you. The best defense is a good offense.

First, watch the batter. If he immediately starts wallowing around like a stuck pig, grimacing and shaking his foot, it doesn’t require Sherlock Holmes to tell you foul ball is the best call. Maybe the ball didn’t hit him, but especially at the non-professional levels it is almost certain that no batter is adept enough to instantaneously begin a stellar performance based on a lie. So foul ball may not be the right call — it probably will be — but it is the safe one and people will buy it because there is good circumstantial evidence that is what happened.

Sometimes, however, the ball just nicks the batter’s foot and he doesn’t know it hit him, so he shoots right out of the box toward first as if nothing is amiss. No help there. What we have is a batted ball that went straight down, could have hit the batter and rolled in front of the plate and a runner acting like everything is hunky-dory. So the next thing to consider is how the ball came out. If it rolls flatly and hugs the ground, like someone tossed it underhanded, that’s good evidence that it hit the batter’s foot, because a ball that is normally hit will have some hop to it.

Obviously, to call foul then is to gamble, because the batter’s action in running to first without hesitation tells you he didn’t think he got hit. So you should call foul only if the path and trajectory of the ball are so clearly different from those of a normally hit ball that the only reasonable explanation is that it hit something other than dirt. You have to know that you know that it isn’t how a batted ball usually rolls before you call foul because it is, in my book, better to let the play go even if it really was foul than it is to make what turns out to be a phantom foul call.

Watching how the ball rolls is also useful when the batter does something in between nothing and acting like he has been shot. Sometimes he will hesitate briefly but then run because he’s not sure if he got hit or he’s not confident that the umpire will think so. That in-between thing is not enough to make me as the plate umpire go with a foul call, because maybe he didn’t get hit but just stumbled. But if the ball also comes out skimming the ground, that two-plus-the-other-two (batter’s hesitation) equals four (foul ball).

In a 1957 World Series game, plate umpire Augie Donatelli awarded Nippy Jones first base after he saw some black shoe polish on the ball. But in amateur ball we use the same ball far more than they do in the major leagues, so we can’t really know when a ball got smudged or what caused it. So that avenue is unlikely to be helpful to us in terms of providing meaningful circumstantial evidence.

What should the base umpire(s) do? That is one of those situations in which reasonable minds can differ, but I believe that “nothing” is almost always the right answer.

More than once I’ve seen top-notch umpires kill a play from first base when I knew, or was later told, that the ball didn’t come near hitting the batter. One time at the University of Texas that happened in a four-umpire crew. As a result Texas didn’t get its home-to-first, inning-ending double play, but did end up with two ejections.

The only situation in which I will intervene from the bases is if, based on how the ball rolls as described above, it is absolutely apparent it was not a normally batted ball and the only explanation is that it hit the batter’s foot or leg. Hopefully the plate umpire will read the play the same way and kill it before I do, but if he lets the play go and I am 100 percent sure it was foul — not 99 percent — I will kill it. If the plate umpire does nothing, the batter runs and the ball doesn’t roll in an unusual way, I’m not going to stop play, even if I sense that something is not right. There is just not enough circumstantial evidence to do so.

As for whether a plate umpire should honor a coach’s request to ask his partner(s) — and that is another instance in which I know I will get disagreement — I say the answer is no. First, we obviously can’t ask for help if we kill the play, because we can’t undo that; instead, we can seek help only if we let the play proceed. But I think that is one of those cases — like a hit batsman, which I’ve argued in these pages a plate umpire should not seek help — in which the plate umpire has to own the call and not dump it on his partners who are much farther away from the play than he is and certainly are in no better position to know if the ball actually hit the foot.

As noted, if the facts convince them 100 percent that the ball was foul, they should kill the play on the spot; otherwise, they should not intervene. And so my answer to the coach will simply be, “Coach, if he (or they) had the ball hitting the batter, they would already have killed the play.”

He won’t be happy, but too bad. And I firmly believe we should never ask for help just to pacify a coach, but should instead do so only if we think we might be missing some piece of the puzzle that our partner(s) might be able to supply.

Whether a batted ball nicked the batter’s foot is one of those times when, without benefit of replay, we may never be sure of what happened. In such cases, it is hoped deliberate timing and circumstantial evidence will get us to the right place. First, what did the batter do; second, what did the ball do? If, based on that evidence, we’re not 100 percent sure the play should be killed, we should let it continue. We should not compound the chances of a royal screw-up by having base umpires kill plays when the plate umpire didn’t unless they are positive the ball was foul. And we shouldn’t make ourselves look worse than we already do by not calling the play foul initially, then huddling up at a coach’s request and announcing that we’re sure the ball was foul when we obviously didn’t have that certainty at the outset. I couldn’t even get my wife to buy that if I was trying to sell it and (generally speaking) she’s a lot more inclined to agree with me than coaches are.

Jon Bible, Austin, Texas, is a veteran umpire who has worked six NCAA Division I College World Series.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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