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.


Football – Say ‘Hi’ to the New Guy


By Jon Bible

If you’re used to working on a crew with the same people from week to week, you know that you can quickly reach a comfort level. Everyone knows what to expect from each other on and even off the field.

I’ve been fortunate to have been a part of some great crews on which everyone got along well, had fun and officiated beautifully. On the flip side, I’ve been part of groups that didn’t get along so well and a couple that were dysfunctional nightmares off and on the field.

As has been written many times, a good referee is more than a penalty announcer — he is a crew chief responsible for setting the right tone and getting the best performance out of each crew member and the crew as a whole. A vital aspect of that role is handling new additions to the crew. The new member may be coming on board for one game or for longer. As officials move on and off the roster from year to year, coordinators have to balance crews in terms of years of experience, meaning that, in a given year, one or more crews might be reconstituted. Injuries, family responsibilities and other issues may lead to changes as well.

How I deal with new additions depends on whether it will be for one game or the foreseeable future. I want a temporary replacement to feel comfortable, but the substitute is not really becoming a member of our family and need not have the sense of ownership. I will telephone or email him a few days in advance, tell him we’re looking forward to working with him and make sure that he knows our plans — when we will meet for dinner, go the stadium, have our pregame and do film review, etc. If we need to meet somewhere to drive to the game site, we’ll work out the logistics of that as well.

I will also ensure that we have a more comprehensive pregame than might otherwise be the case. My attitude on pregames is that I assume each person knows his keys and position mechanics so that our focus can be on how we will communicate and intersect with each other. At the start of the year, we are very thorough because there will be rule and mechanics changes to deal with, and even if some or all of us have worked together in the past, we must refresh our memories on what we have been doing and discuss how we could do things better. But as the year wears on, we don’t go through the A-B-C’s of the kicking, running, passing game, etc. each week; instead, we concentrate on what did and did not go well last week.

When a new official joins the crew as a temporary replacement, however, we pretty much go back to the first-game type of pregame. Even though everyone in the conference or association who works each position should have the same keys and mechanics, we still need to cover things like when the referee or umpire will spot the ball, who watches whom on free kicks, which officials key which receivers when there are three or four receivers on one side, etc. To make the newcomer feel a part of things, I assign him some topic to address, same as the other crew members. I stress that if anything seems amiss on the field, I want him, just like anyone else, to stop the game if necessary and raise the question. I also ask him what he feels he needs from each of us.

My experience is that younger one-game substitutes are always going to adapt to our way of doing things because they’re too scared to do otherwise. If they haven’t been around the track that many times, they may need a bit more coaching than a veteran, but they never make waves. As for veterans, 98 percent are willing to adapt to how our crew handles things like relaying new balls in, enforcing penalties and communicating. That is as it should be, for it makes far more sense for one person to change things to accommodate six others than vice versa. On a handful of occasions, however, I have had someone come in with the attitude, “I’ve always done it this way and I’m not changing.” Then I have to decide which way to go. If it’s something minor, like how a linesman communicates with me between downs, I have generally adapted on the theory that it’s not worth giving blood over. If, on the other hand, it’s something that could really affect how we work the game, I will tell him as politely as possible (privately if feasible) that I think we need to handle things our way and that he needs to come on board. Ultimately, the referee is the final authority and on occasion must exert that authority. If the new person refuses to go along, we’ll get by as best we can and then I will take it up with the coordinator.

If the new member is joining us for the year, I think there is more of a “family” aspect involved. We are going to be together each week for several months and will have many ups and downs along the way. It is important that we get off on the right foot. In that instance, I will go further than I would with a temporary substitute and find out what I can about our new addition’s family, background, job, likes, dislikes, etc. That will help me figure out how best to integrate him into our crew given the other personalities. If he has been in the conference before, I may talk with other referees to find out what I can about him. Officials tend to be Type A personalities with healthy egos. A bunch of middle-aged folks with such attributes who are pretty well set in their ways is going to have any chance of functioning harmoniously only if each member recognizes what makes the others tick and is prepared to do some giving and taking. Those who have been together for a while will already have been through it, so the key is to figure out what must be done to accommodate the new addition. If he tends to get down on himself, we know we may need to try harder to build his confidence than we may with someone else.

When a newcomer appears, a true test of the crew chief is his ability to effectively integrate that person into the crew so everyone is immediately clicking on all cylinders. If the chief does his homework and is sensitive to the needs of everyone involved, he will almost certainly succeed. If, on the other hand, the chief takes a cavalier approach to things or is too negative, dismissive or dictatorial, the results can be disastrous.

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 01/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Wild Wild Card

Pro Plays Provide Unusual Rulings


By George Demetriou

With the changing of the calendar from one year to the next come the NFL playoffs. The league’s postseason begins with the Wild Card round. As we head into this season’s playoffs, let’s review plays from three of last year’s games. Although in most cases NFL rules are vastly different than high school or college rules, amateur officials can learn from the plays.

Thanks to Mike Pereira, former NFL vice president of officiating and now a member of the Fox Sports broadcast team, for his assistance.

Green Bay at Philadelphia. The Eagles punted on fourth and one from their 23 yardline. Philadelphia punter Sav Rocca kicked 36 yards to the Green Bay 41 yardline. The ball struck the Packers’ Brandon Underwood on the foot and was recovered by Philadelphia’s Omar Gaither.

Underwood was deemed to have touched the ball because he was not “passive” when he was overpowered into the ball by a Philadelphia player. Passive is defined as standing in the area of the ball without blocking an opponent. If a player is passive and is knocked into the ball, he is deemed not to have touched the ball. Since Underwood was blocking, he was responsible for the touch.

In both high school and college, Underwood would have been the victim of forced touching (NFHS 6-2-4; NCAA 6-3-4) and deemed to not have touched the ball. The ball would have been awarded to Green Bay. As it turned out, the Eagles did not score on the new series. David Akers missed a 41-yard field goal.

With 4:02 to play in the game, the Eagles scored a touchdown to trail, 21-16, and went for a two-point try. Quarterback Michael Vick completed a pass in the back of the end zone to Brent Celek, but Celek had stepped on the endline before catching the pass. He was flagged for an illegal touch. Initially referee Pete Morelli announced the try was not successful; however, at least one of the officiating crew members stepped up and reminded Morelli that the penalty for an illegal touch is not a loss of down. Since Celek caught the ball for what would have been a successful try, the Packers had to accept the penalty to negate the score. The Eagles got a re-try from the seven yardline. The replayed try was unsuccessful.

Under NFHS rules, Celek’s foul would be illegal participation. Celek voluntarily went out of bounds and returned (9-6-1). The 15-yard penalty would be enforced under the all-but-one principle from the previous spot and the try would be replayed from the 18 yardline.

In NCAA play, the foul is illegal touching. Celek went out of bounds and touched a forward pass before it was touched by an opponent or an official (7-3-4). The penalty is loss of down at the previous spot so the try would not be replayed.

Baltimore at Kansas City.

Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel went back to pass and was hit by Baltimore’s Lardarius Webb while he was attempting to pull the ball back. The ruling on the field was that Cassel fumbled and the ball was recovered by the Ravens. Kansas City challenged and the call was reversed to an incomplete pass.

That is the infamous NFL “tuck” rule. Once a player moves his arm forward to pass the ball, he is considered to be in the act of passing until he totally tucks back to his body. Under NFHS and NCAA rules, that is a fumble. Cassel was not attempting to pass the ball and his arm was not moving forward when the ball came loose (NFHS 2-31-2 Note; NCAA 2-19-2b).

New York Jets at Indianapolis.

The Jets trailed, 16-14, but had the ball first and 10 at their 46 yardline with 53 seconds to play. Mark Sanchez completed a pass to Braylon Edwards, who was tackled by Jacob Lacey. The ball came loose as a result of the hit with Edwards falling on the ball. Incomplete or a catch and a fumble? It was ruled the latter and the review confirmed the ruling.

To make a catch, possession must be maintained while going to the ground. On that play, the receiver maintained an upright position while making the catch; it was the subsequent tackle that took him to the ground. Edwards got both feet down and was not going to the ground. The contact by the defender knocked the ball loose. The play should be called exactly the same way under NFHS and NCAA rules: a catch and a fumble.

Earlier there had been a critical call involving contact with a kicker. The Jets led, 14-13, with 3:02 to play in the game. Indianapolis’ Taj Smith ran into New York punter Steve Weatherford and was flagged for running into the kicker. Although it was only a five-yard penalty, it gave the Jets a first down.

The issue was whether or not Smith was blocked into Weatherford. The ruling was that Smith was not blocked into the kicker. He regained his balance after he was pushed, and he could have avoided Weatherford.

In NFHS and NCAA, if blocking the defender into the kicker or holder is the sole reason for the contact, there is no foul (NFHS 9-4-5d; NCAA 9-1-16a-5).

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

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 09/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Ken Stabler’s Death Evokes Legendary ‘Holy Roller’ Play


The San Diego Chargers were leading the Oakland Raiders, 20-14, in a 1978 battle when, with 10 seconds left in the game, Oakland quarterback Kenny Stabler was tackled as he tried to pass and fumbled the ball forward. Raider Pete Banazak batted the ball further forward toward tight end Dave Casper, who did the same thing until the ball bounced into the end zone. Casper jumped on the ball for a touchdown. The Raiders won the game, 21-20. Referee Jerry Markbreit ruled that Stabler’s fumble had not been intentional, but Stabler later confessed that he had indeed fumbled the ball on purpose and Banazak and Casper went on record saying they helped the ball along for the score. To close the obvious loophole in the rule, the NFL added a regulation that says that in the event of any fourth-down fumble or fumble in the final two minutes of either half, only the player who actually fumbled the ball can recover it and run with it. If any other offensive player recovers the ball, he cannot advance it; the ball is declared dead and is returned to the spot of the original fumble.

View Video: Top Controversial Plays: The ‘Holy Roller’ (YouTube)

Football – Oklahoma Replay Ruling

An Oklahoma judge declined to intervene in a request by the Oklahoma City public school district to replay a playoff game with a  disputed call. Read the full text of the decision below.  The New York Times gives a summary of the situation.  Referee Magazine will run an in-depth examination of the story and issues involved, from an officiating perspective, in a future issue.

Page 01

Oklahoma Replay Ruling

Page 02

Oklahoma Replay Ruling Page 02

Page 03

Oklahoma Replay Ruling Page 03

Page 04

Oklahoma Replay Ruling Page 04

Football – Oh, S—!

How do coaches perceive you? A former NFL referee asks the question in a most colorful way.


By Jeffrey Stern
Referee senior editor

I’m guessing you can fill in the blanks in the title of this column. If you haven’t used the word even once in your life, I feel confident that you’ve at least heard it a time or two.

The title is part of a mantra Red Cashion, the great former NFL referee, told me once a long time ago. Red said, “You want to be a ‘Thank God’ official, not an “Oh, s —“ official.

Red was referring the reaction coaches have when you walk on the field before the game. You hope they feel confident in your abilities, that you’ll hustle, get the judgment calls correct and enforce penalties properly. So when you walk on the field, the coaches say aloud or to themselves, “Thank God I have this crew tonight.”

Coaches being coaches, you can do all of the things mentioned above and they will still have the feeling, “Oh, s —! Them again!” Likely something happened the last time you had that team and the coach can’t separate the crew from the fact that his fullback fumbled on the opponent’s one yardline, his star wideout dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone or the opposing kicker nailed a 47-yard field goal on the final play of the game. None of which is your fault, of course, but there is that connection.

Once you get labeled as an “Oh s —“ crew it’s hard to shake that tag. I’ve worked for coaches who felt they got jobbed by us 20 years ago. And maybe we did screw up that one time. We’ve had them every year since without incident, but the coach just can’t shake the memories of that one game.

Sadly you can go from a “Thank God” crew to an “Oh, s—“ crew in the wink of an eye. But the opposite is a tougher task.

The way you don’t want to become a “Thank God” crew is bad-mouthing another one. I’ve heard about coaches saying to an official, “I know we’re going to get a fair shake from you tonight. Not like last week.” When the official asks to whom he is referring, the coach only too happily coughs up the name of the previous crew. To which the official replies, “Oh, yeah. They’re awful. You’ve got the A-team tonight.”

Way to go, genius. You just fell into the trap. First of all, do you know for sure the coach really got screwed the week before? Or is he trying to curry favor tonight? Secondly, if he says that about another crew, do you honestly think he’d hesitate to tell next week’s crew the same about you? Right or wrong? Heck, maybe he says that to every crew.

If you are assigned to a team you’ve never had before, you have a golden opportunity to make the great first impression everyone talks about. Get in there, bust your butt and maybe you’ll find yourself on that coach’s preferred list. At least you’ll stay off his, umm, you-know-what list.

Referee Magazine(This column stemmed from an interview published in the February 2014 MyReferee issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Five Minutes with Tom Ritter

Southeastern Conference referee Tom Ritter talks tough calls and finger whistles.


Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.
Profession: Business consultant for an industrial supply company.
Officiating: Began officiating in 1976 while a junior at Rice University. Joined the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in 2000 and is currently a referee. Key assignments include the 2003 and 2012 SEC championship games, the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, the 2010 Alamo Bowl and the 2007 Orange Bowl.

Here is more of Referee’s interview with Southeastern Conference referee Tom Ritter.

REFEREE: What would you say as a referee is your toughest call?

RITTER: You know it’s managing the holding that we see play in play out, and trying to gauge the impact that that hold has on a play and whether or not it’s worthy of a foul.

REFEREE: The rule this year now the quarterback gets I call you call them special protection.

RITTER: Yeah, you get special protection on change of possession. He is considered a defensive player throughout the whole down which would include the return of the interception.

REFEREE: So that I would think if the interception — say it’s interception farther down field, you’re going to be sticking with that quarterback.


REFEREE: What happens when a guy breaks one?

RITTER: Well, we’ve got a decision to make. I mean we have to — our first responsibility is the quarterback, no questions. However, we also may have goal line responsibility. If they break it we have a little bit maybe of point of attack blocks in front of the returner. So we have some split duties. But the quarterback should be our primary focus.

REFEREE: You’re a finger whistle guy, aren’t you?

RITTER: I’m a finger whistle guy. It has its drawbacks and it has its benefits, but I’ve always been a finger whistle guy.

REFEREE: What advice can you give to somebody who may be considering switching to a finger whistle?

RITTER: Well, I just don’t like to have a whistle in my mouth. I talk back there when I’m doing — I actually talk a little bit to myself. But during the play I’ll be saying something about ball’s gone, ball’s gone, and then I’ll be talking to the quarterback or the players saying stay off of him or way to stay off of him. So having a finger whistle benefits in that way. As a referee it’s okay to have a finger whistle. Obviously I don’t have to signal touchdown that often, so that’s a little bit awkward when I do to kill the play and indicate a touchdown. I’ve gotten some interesting comments on one arm signals.

REFEREE: That’s the real downside.

RITTER: That’s the downside. Plus it gives you that split second pause between what you think you saw and then really what you saw. And that comes into play not many times during the season, but every once in a while it comes into play. I had a play last year at Missouri where I would have sworn absolutely on a fumble that went back and muffed and went more and muffed that a player had possession until I got around to the right angle and he did not have possession. And my hand was coming to my mouth. And so that split second that I had enabled me to handle that call properly.

REFEREE: Fans in the SEC are very passionate, they’re very intelligent. And you guys when you’re in a town I’m guessing people look and say, I know who those guys are, seven guys hanging out.

RITTER: When we go out to dinner on Friday nights, yeah, they know exactly who we are. But in almost every case they’re very gracious. They’re interested in what we do. They wish us the best for the next day. So we’ve never had any issues. And then obviously after the game we don’t go out. We stay pretty much locked down after a game. But we go out just about every Friday night before our film session. We go out as a crew. And we try to pick places that are a little bit maybe out of the way. We try not to mingle in the town square, things like that. We go to restaurants that are a little bit remote.

Referee Magazine(This column stemmed from an interview published in the November 2014 issue of Referee Magazine.)

All Sports – Football vs. Baseball

A classic comedy bit compares two of my favorite sports to officiate.


By Jeffrey Stern

Before his wife’s death turned him into a bitter, angry man, George Carlin was one of the funniest men on the planet. Sure, his language was often coarse and his most famous bit was an examination of the seven words that couldn’t be said on television (several of which can now be heard even on network TV). But the man was darn funny.

As a football official and baseball umpire, one of my favorites is Carlin’s bit called “The Differences Between Football and Baseball.” You can find it on YouTube, but here are some of my favorite parts the segments that apply to my officiating.

“Baseball has no time limit. We don’t know how long it’s gonna last. We might have extra innings. Football is rigidly timed and it will end even if we have to go to sudden death.” Neither high school nor college football has sudden death overtime. But that’s picking nits.

He’s right about no time limits in (most) baseball games. I should know. I’ve worked my share of 11-10 games that seem to last six hours. I’ve had only one super-long extra inning games. I believe it was 16 innings. I once worked a three-overtime football game. And one year, I had three overtime games in a row.

“In football, you get a penalty. In baseball, you make an error.” Again, if you choose to be particular, a penalty and an error are vastly different. A penalty affects the game. An error affects the statistics.

Because people often confuse a foul with a penalty, I’m often reminded of the analogy used by CFO National Coordinator of Football Officiating Rogers Redding. Redding has said the foul is the crime and the penalty is punishment. Much like double parking is the no-no and the fine is the price you pay.

Of course, if an official makes an error, it’s a big deal. And the penalty may be loss of a game, a playoff assignment or worse.

“Only in baseball does the manager or coach have to wear the same uniform the players do. Can you picture Bill Parcells in his New York Giants uniform?” We all know budgets are tight at the high school level. Still, baseball coaches are required to wear the team uniform if they occupy the coaching boxes. If the players aren’t wearing shorts (remember those horrible Chicago White Sox uniforms in the 1970s?), the coaches can’t wear shorts. Sweatpants are also a no-no as are blue jeans.

I can’t imagine the same rule applying to football coaches. Would we have to ensure they had legal equipment?

“Baseball begins in the spring — the season of new life. Football begins in the fall when everything is dying.” I happen to like the fall. It’s my favorite season. Spring in these parts is usually slow to arrive. It teases us with nice days followed by chilly ones. It’s hard to know how to dress. It can be 40 when you leave home and 70 at the end of the workday.

Whether it’s what passes for spring around here or late fall, I always thank heaven for the modern undergarments we wear. For me, at least, the cold isn’t as onerous as it was when I started officiating. In those days, I wore so many layers I looked like the Michelin Man. Not a pretty picture.

“Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, sleet, snow, hail, mud, can’t read the numbers on the field, can’t read the yard markers, can’t see the players’ numbers. The struggle will continue. In baseball, if it rains, we don’t come out to play.”

Thanks to artificial turf, football in the rain isn’t as miserable as it is on grass fields. We’ve seen more turf fields spring up in our state in the recent past. When our schedules come out, in addition to looking at the matchups, I look to see which is the home team and whether they have turf or grass. If turf is dominant, I’m a happier camper.

Referee Magazine(Jeffrey Stern is Referee’s senior editor. This column originally appeared in the April 2014 MyReferee.)

Football – The Six-Down Saga

By George Demetriou


Football has not always been a four-down game. Before 1912, each team had only three downs to make a first down. Subsequent to that change, there have been several cases in which a team has been given an extra down or has been shorted. I’ll relate some of those shortly.

To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a case where a team was given six downs, but it almost happened to me. In 1994, I was the referee for a semipro game with a five-man crew. As I walked onto the field for the pregame, I realized I had left my wrist band down indicator in the car and decided it was not worth delaying the game the one or two minutes it would take to get it. I relied on the box for a quarter and a half when near disaster struck.

The play was student body right with the linesman and the entire chain crew disappearing in a mass of humanity. As I waited for the survivors to rise, a gut-wrenching revelation hit me — I didn’t know what the down was. I patiently waited for the box holder to get up and when he did, a big fat “one” was displayed. I had survived, or so I thought.

By now, linesman Scott Taylor had gotten to his feet so I confidently said “Second down” and Scott replied “Second down.” Unknown until after the game was that Scott’s wrist band had gotten knocked off in the assault and he was merely echoing what I was telling him.

I then turned to my trusty umpire, Rulon Frandsen, and repeated, with even more confidence “Second down.” Rulon wears two wrist bands: one black, one white. Very classy. He uses the black one to track the spot of the snap. I believe he uses the white one to count cheerleaders. At least, I don’t think he counts downs on it. Before replying, he looked at both hands, turned them backward and forward and gave me a very weak “OK, second down.”

One more check to go and I was there. I turned to line judge Bob Kachel, thrust out two fingers and shouted “Second down.” I was stunned by his panic-stricken look. Bob immediately came in to the ball, “No, no, fourth down.” I was incredulous, thinking to myself, “Who are you to say fourth down, when everyone else says second?”

Before I could respond, Rulon grabbed my shoulder and said “Look George, they’re in punt formation, it must be fourth down.” So it was, fourth down. The wrist band — don’t leave home without it.

I survived my gaffe, but there have been several prominent down errors that have affected the outcome of games. In 1940, Dartmouth was leading undefeated Cornell, 3-0, late in the fourth quarter. Benefiting from an extra down, Cornell won, 7-3. The mistake was discovered in the film review the following Monday and Cornell promptly forfeited.

A similar occurrence took place in the 1972 Miami-Tulane game. Miami trailed, 21-17, but was allowed a fifth down and scored with 58 seconds remaining to win the game. No forfeit this time.

The NFL is not immune from such errors. Late in the 1968 season, the Los Angeles Rams trailed the Chicago Bears, 17-16, with 58 seconds to play. The Rams drove into field goal range, but ran out of downs and lost their shot at a playoff berth. Several hours after the game, someone realized the Rams had been shortchanged their fourth down.

Then-commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended referee Norm Schachter and his entire crew for the rest of the season. “It was not a mistake in judgment, which might have been excused. It was a mechanical error that should never occur,” Rozelle said.

The most recent down error took place on Oct. 6, 1990. Colorado visited Missouri in a Big Eight (now Big 12) Conference game. With a fifth down on the final play of the game, Colorado scored a touchdown to win, 33-31. Unlike the previous cases, the benefit of the error was not clear. Colorado grounded a pass to conserve time when they were led to believe it was third down (actually fourth) by the downmarker. Colorado might have very well scored on the real fourth down, which was from the same spot as the fifth down.

Nonetheless, referee J.C. Louderback, who was in his final season after a 34-year officiating career, and his entire crew were suspended for one game. Conference commissioner Carl James, who was at the game, imposed the sanctions. “In my opinion, they blew it. … There’s no excuse for it.” Louderback’s comments: “It’s always a tough feeling when a rule, or an error in a rule, becomes a factor in the game. We are human. We erred. And we feel terrible in regards to the circumstances at the end of the game.”

Referee Magazine(George Demetriou has been a football official since 1968. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colo. This column originally appeared in the 11/98 issue of It’s Official. It is archival in nature; rules and other information has not been updated..)

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Career Opportunities | Contact Us