Football – Well Grounded in the Rules

How the Turf Can Influence the Game


Whether it’s dry or wet, artificial or natural, the surface on which the game is played can have a marked influence on how the game is played and on specific plays.

Muddy fields favor the running game. Many believe a slick field helps the players on offense because they know where they are going, while the defense doesn’t. When a runner slips and goes down by rule, no one credits the ground with the tackle. Instead, the closest defender gets the stat. There are several scenarios, though, in which the ground can be a factor.

The ground cannot cause a fumble. That’s an oft-spoken phrase in football. Actually the ground can cause a fumble under NCAA and NFHS rules even though there is no requirement for a runner to be down by contact. It would, however, be a very rare occurrence.

The veracity of that phrase lies in the fact that, 99.9 percent of the time, when the ball is freed from the runner’s grip as it hits the ground, the ball is already dead. It is dead because a part of the runner’s body other than a hand or foot had touched the ground before the ball touched the ground. That body part might be a knee, the side of a thigh or the forearm. Contact with the ground by any of those body parts causes the ball to become dead. Forward progress is marked at the foremost point of the ball when the contact with the  ground occurred.

So how can the ground cause a fumble? While in a runner’s possession, the ball contacts the ground before any part of the runner’s body other than a hand or foot, and that contact causes the runner to lose control of the ball, then indeed the ground has “caused” a fumble. As you can imagine it would be a most unusual play. The runner would have to either stumble and try to use the ball to regain his balance, he could “lay out” or be flipped heels over head, so that the ball contacts the ground before the rest of the runner’s body, other than perhaps, the free hand.

The ground can cause an incomplete pass. Catching a ball involves more than simply gaining control of it. It means gaining possession of the ball in flight and first coming to the ground inbounds (NFHS 2-4-1; NCAA 2-2-7). If an airborne player receives the ball and lands so his first contact is inbounds, he has caught the ball. Barring contact by an opponent, if the first contact is out of bounds, there is no catch and the pass is incomplete. If a player controls the ball while airborne, but loses possession when he lands, there is no catch. Thus, the ground can cause an incomplete pass.

One fairly common scenario is a player who gains control of a ball in flight while he is in mid-air. He then comes to the ground with a foot just inside the sideline and falls to the ground out of bounds. When the player contacts the ground, the ball pops out from his hands. That may occur either with or without the ball contacting the ground.

Some will argue that is a completed pass because the catch was completed when his foot touched the ground. Admittedly, the player has certainly complied with the exact requirements of the rule, but the key is “possession.” While it appeared to the eye that the player gained possession of the ball, the fact that the ball came loose upon contact with the ground is proof the player did not have sufficient control to satisfy the rule. That sort of qualifies as “evidence after the fact,” but that’s what the rule requires.

That principle applies regardless of where the airborne receiver comes to the ground: out of bounds, inbounds, in the middle of the field or the end zone. In the preceding scenario, the play did not end when the receiver’s foot touched the ground inbounds — the ball remained live. Such a play ends when the receiver touches out of bounds and, as described, the ball becomes loose at the time it is to be declared dead.

Let’s take the same airborne receiver and have him gain control between the hashmarks above the end zone. He then comes to the ground in the following sequence: first foot, second foot, hip, back. The ball pops free when his back contacts the turf. Is that a catch? One argument can be that not only was the catch complete when the first foot touched the ground, but the ball was dead because it was in the end zone. Again, failure to maintain control of the ball until the player has completely come to the ground indicates that the rule requiring possession was not satisfied. The result is an incomplete pass.

The ground cannot commit a personal foul. Perhaps that’s not as widely known as the first two phrases, but it’s certainly valid. That phrase was probably coined by Randy Campbell of the Mountain West Conference. Randy uses that phrase to encourage officials not to stare down at the ground after a play ends (a common fault among prep officials, especially when marking the progress spot). Dead-ball fouls, especially at a sideline, are almost always formulated in the mind of the perpetrator while the ball is live and executed within three seconds after the ball becomes dead.

In order for a late hit to occur, the potential offender must be in proximity of an opponent. Piling on or late hits near the runner are relatively easy to catch because officials tend to watch the player with the ball. Fouls away from the play are more difficult, but only because some crews are not disciplined to keep all 22 players in view after the play ends. It’s not difficult to maintain vigilance for three seconds and it is a key component of good dead-ball officiating.

Of course, dead-ball fouls can occur after the threesecond vigilance period. Opponents may begin the dead-ball interval with verbal jousting that escalates to physical confrontation. The syllables themselves may constitute taunting. Officials should monitor all bantering among opponents. If opponents remain near each other after a play ends, there is a potential problem and the nearest official should close in and let his presence be known. In many cases that will be enough to deter any extracurricular activity.

A common distraction to dead-ball officiating is the ball itself. Some officials incorrectly make chasing the ball their first priority after the play ends. That task should be left to the ball boys if the ball has gone outside the sideline and to the players if it remains on the field. It is OK if the game is momentarily delayed while the ball is retrieved. The teams will eventually get into the routine of taking care of the unneeded ball.

If necessary and the circumstances permit, an official can fetch the ball once all players have started to return to their huddle or a new position.

Written by George Demetriou. A football official since 1968, he lives in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/08 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – A One and a Two and a …

How to Set and Maintain a Good Tempo


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.)

Football – Hands Off! When Ineligibles Touch A Pass


By Judson Howard

It is the dream of most offensive linemen to have a chance to run with the ball. In many cases, if possession was obtained after a fumble or muff, the lineman’s fantasy comes true. But if an offensive lineman or other ineligible receiver is first to touch a legal forward pass, the dream becomes a nightmare. It is known as illegal touching.

Illegal touching applies to legal forward passes behind or beyond the line. At the snap, eligible receivers are those in the backfield or on the end of the line with a number 1 to 49 or 80 to 99 (NFHS 7-5-6; NCAA 7-3-3). Interior linemen (regardless of number) and ends or backs numbered 50 to 79 are ineligible at the snap. Unlike the pro game, players numbered 50 to 79 inclusive cannot report to the referee to become eligible receivers.

In NFHS, the penalty for illegal touching is five yards from the basic spot and loss of down (7-5-13 Pen). In NCAA, the penalty is five yards from the previous spot with no loss of down (7-3-11 Pen).

Illegal touching is a positive act. Being touched by the pass is not a foul.

Play 1: First and 10 at team A’s 20 yardline. A forward pass hits guard A1’s back as he is blocking at team A’s 16 yardline. Ruling 1: Even though A1 is an ineligible receiver, there is no foul because A1 did not catch, bat or muff the pass.

If any team B player first touches a legal forward pass, all team A players become eligible (NFHS 7-5-6b; NCAA 7-3-5). In NCAA, a pass first touching an official makes everyone eligible as well.

In NCAA, a receiver can lose eligibility if he voluntarily goes out of bounds and is the first to touch a forward pass inbounds (7-3-4). That illegal touching penalty is loss of down at the previous spot with no loss of yardage. In NFHS, a player who is eligible at the snap remains eligible throughout the down (7-5-6d). Eligibles who go out of bounds on their own and return are guilty of illegal participation (9-6-2). Eligibles who go out of bounds as a result of contact by team B remain eligible if they return inbounds at the first opportunity (NFHS 9-6-1; NCAA 7-3-4 Exc).

Play 3: Eligible receiver A1 (a) is pushed out of bounds by B2, or (b) steps on the sideline. He returns to the field immediately, catches a pass at team A’s 30 yardline and runs into team B’s end zone. Ruling 3: In (a), since A1 was forced out and returned immediately, he remains eligible. The score counts. In (b), A1 is guilty of illegal participation (NFHS) or illegal touching (NCAA). In NFHS, the 15-yard penalty is enforced from the spot of the foul. In NCAA, it is loss of down at the previous spot.

Judson Howard, Los Angeles, officiated more than 20 years, many at the NCAA Division I level. 

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 04/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Football Clete – Clete Blakeman Biography

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




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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)

Football – Manipulation Or Management?


By George Demetriou

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?

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.

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?

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

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – The Kick Is Up …

Rules Regarding Field Goals Can Be Tricky


By Craig Teitelbaum

Given the variety of potential outcomes, a field goal poses unique officiating challenges. Judging whether or not the kick is successful is not even half the battle. There are a number of possible outcomes or options depending on what happens on the play.

To begin, remember that a field goal is a scrimmage kick. It may be a place kick or a drop kick from scrimmage (or in NFHS only, a free kick following a fair catch or an awarded fair catch). For a scoring kick to be successful, the entire ball must pass completely over the crossbar and completely between the inside edges of the uprights. In NFHS, the crossbar is treated as a plane, whereas in NCAA it’s treated as a line. Thus if a field goal is blown back or returns back over the crossbar into the end zone under NCAA rules it is no good (NFHS 8-4-1; NCAA 8-4-1).

A field goal is unsuccessful if the kick touches the ground or touches a kicking team player. In NFHS, that touching must occur while the team K player is beyond the expanded neutral zone (8-4-1b); in NCAA, the touching must occur at any point after the ball is kicked (8-4-1a).

A field goal attempt that does not cross the neutral zone is treated the same as a punt from scrimmage. In NFHS, if an unsuccessful attempt crosses the neutral zone, it is treated the same as a punt. In NCAA, if the kick is untouched by team R beyond the neutral zone, the ball belongs to team R at the previous spot. If the previous spot was inside team R’s 20 yardline, it’s team R’s ball on its 20 yardline (8-4-2). If the play occurs during extra periods, extra period rules govern.

If team R commits a live-ball foul during a successful field goal, team K is given the choice of accepting the penalty and replaying the down following enforcement from the previous spot. In NFHS, team K also has the choice of accepting the result of the play and enforcement of the penalty from the succeeding spot (8-4-3), whereas in NCAA there is no enforcement from the succeeding spot unless the penalty is for a live-ball foul treated as a dead-ball foul or a dead-ball foul (10-2-5d).

Play 1: With fourth and eight from team R’s 34 yardline, team K’s attempted field goal is short, lands at team R’s seven yardline and comes to rest untouched at team R’s five yardline. Ruling 1: In NFHS, the play is treated the same as if it were a punt; thus it’s team R’s ball, first and 10 at team R’s five yardline. In NCAA, team R will have first and 10 at team R’s 34 yardline (the previous spot).

Play 2: Same as play 1, except R1 touches the loose ball at team R’s seven yardline and it goes out of bounds at team R’s five yardline. Ruling 2: In both codes, it will be team R’s ball, first and 10 at its own five yardline.

Play 3: Midway through the second quarter, it is fourth and 10 at team R’s 32 yardline. K1’s attempted field goal is successful. R2 is flagged for holding while the ball is in flight. Ruling 3: In both codes, team K has the option of declining the penalty and accepting the score or having the penalty enforced from the previous spot. In NFHS, team K also has the option of accepting the points and having the penalty enforced on the succeeding kickoff.

The holder. At any other time in a game, if a player’s knee touches the ground while he is in possession of the ball, the ball is dead by rule. There is an exception for holders on field goals and extra points, however. A holder, who at the snap has his knee on the ground while there is a teammate in kicking position, is permitted to rise to catch or recover an errant snap, immediately return his knee to the ground and place the ball for a kick or again rise to advance. In NFHS, the holder must raise his knee from the ground before trying to advance, hand, kick or pass the ball. Failing to do so results in the ball becoming dead (4-2-2 Exc 1-2). In NCAA, the holder need not rise before handing off or passing (4-1-3b).

Play 4: Team K lines up in field goal formation from team R’s 17 yardline. Holder K1 receives the snap while kneeling at team R’s 24 yardline. From that position, K1 throws a (a) forward, or (b) backward pass to K2, who runs into the end zone. Ruling 4: In NFHS, the holder must lift his knee when passing forward or backward or handing the ball; thus the ball is dead. In NCAA, it’s a touchdown in both cases.

“Goaltending.” If a team R player blocks a field goal attempt basketball style, the codes vary on the result.

Play 5: R9 in his end zone leaps and bats K1’s field goal attempt. The ball strikes the ground in front of the crossbar and rolls out of bounds in the end zone. Ruling 5: In NFHS, the ball is dead when it’s apparent the kick will not score. Result: touchback. In NCAA, it’s a foul for illegal batting and yields a safety (NFHS 6.3.1B; NCAA AR 9-4-1 II).

Craig Teitelbaum is a veteran official from  Charlotte, N.C. 

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Yawner? Blowout? Guess Again


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


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.)

2015 NFL Rule and Procedure Changes


With the NFL season starting tomorrow here is a review of the rule changes as well as the football handling procedures.

Rule Changes

  • 3-34; 5-3-1 | Prohibits offensive player with an eligible number to report as ineligible and line up outside the core of the offensive formation.
  • 4-8-2; 14-4-9 | Allows for enforcement of an Unsportsmanlike Conduct foul at the end of a half to be applied to the ensuing kickoff.
  • 5-1-2 | Permits clubs to assign additional jersey numbers (40-49) to linebackers.
  • 9-1-3 | Prohibits Team B players from pushing teammates into the offensive formation when Team A presents a punt formation.
  • 11-3-1-3 | Line of scrimmage for Try Kicks moved to defensive team’s 15-yard line, and defense can return any missed Try.
  • 12-2-3 | Prohibits a back from blocking a defensive player below the waist when that player is engaged above the waist by another offensive player outside the area originally occupied by the tight end.
  • 12-2-4 | Extends the prohibition for an illegal “peel back” block to all offensive players.
  • 12-2-7 | Gives the intended receiver of a pass defenseless player protection in the immediate continuing action following an interception or potential interception.
  • 15-2-4 | Adds review of the game clock on the final play of a half or overtime to the Instant Replay system.

Football Handling Procedure Changes

  • Teams will be able to supply their own footballs, but the kicking game coordinator will take custody once they have been approved by officials.
  • Before a game, two members of the officiating crew will inspect the footballs, number them and record PSI data. The footballs need to measure between 12.5 and 13.5 PSI; if they don’t, they’ll be adjusted to 13.0 PSI.
  • Ten minutes before the game, the coordinator, a member of the officiating crew and a security person will bring 24 approved game balls (12 for each team) to the on-field replay station for distribution.
  • At some games, footballs will be randomly checked at halftime and after the game, and PSI data will be recorded to determine how cold weather affects the footballs.

NASO Releases Statement on Texas High School Football Incident

NASO has issued a statement about the horrendous act that occurred during a high school football game in Marble Falls, Texas. (You can view that play below NASO’s released statement.)


In Marble Falls, Texas this past weekend, an officiating nightmare took place. It took place and nobody was sleeping. Fortunately someone was videotaping the game. Without any room for equivocation, that video shows two players from John Jay High School in San Antonio purposely and with malice physically assaulted umpire Robert Watts during the final moments of the game. He was viciously and without warning knocked to the ground by a Jay player and then, while prostrate on the turf, was helmet-speared by a fellow Jay teammate.

Robert is a long-time member of the National Association of Sports Officials. That fact energizes us to take a stand on his behalf. But, make no mistake, had Robert not been a member of NASO, we would be taking to the ramparts in his defense and in that of all men, women and young people who officiate our games.

What occurred that night on that field is unacceptable and we in the officiating community will not accept it. NASO has taken steps to ensure that Robert is provided the full benefits of NASO insurance, legal and consultation services. Whatever course of action he intends to take in order to have his assault properly redressed, NASO will stand in support of him.

NASO president, Barry Mano, has been a frequent and often quoted media interview about this horror. He has presented NASO’s firm belief, backed unanimously by the NASO board of directors, that commensurate consequences must result from this act, wherever they may lead. Certainly calling to account the two players will be just a starting point. An investigation by the proper authorities and jurisdictions is underway now. The facts and the broader truths will be of interest to all of us in the officiating world.

NASO works in partnership with the Texas Association of Sports Officials (TASO) and the University Interscholastic League (UIL) in a number of officiating programs. The three organizations embrace the belief that assaultive behavior against sports officials will not be tolerated nor accepted at any level.


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