Once a flag is thrown, there are circumstances when it can be picked up — disregarded if you will. Except for some very specific scenarios, extreme care must be taken in waving off a flag. While the apparently offending team will be happy, the opposing coach will almost certainly want an explanation. Except where noted, the material that follows applies equally to NFHS and NCAA rules.
When a referee believes a passer is intentionally grounding the ball, he should flag it. If an eligible receiver was “in the area,” the flag can be picked up. Some referees will not flag intentional grounding unless it is a slam dunk; i.e., the ball is smashed to the ground or thrown away from the referee well over the sideline. Also, because the referee’s focus is on the quarterback, he may not be cognizant of a pass that goes nowhere. If an official sees a pass that was not thrown near an eligible offensive receiver, he should report it to the referee after the play is clearly over. The referee will then decide if a foul occurred and if so, throw a late flag.
Ineligible receivers downfield and offensive pass interference.
Both of those fouls can only occur on a play where a legal forward pass crosses the neutral zone. If an apparent violation is observed, it should be flagged. When the foul is reported, the official responsible for determining whether the ball crossed the neutral zone (the umpire in a crew of five and the linesman in a crew of seven) should speak up if the ball did not cross the zone and the flag should be waved off.
In NCAA, a pass has crossed the neutral zone if it first strikes anything (player, official, the ground, etc.) beyond the zone inbounds. In NFHS play, the key is not where the pass is touched first, but where it ends. So, a pass intended for a receiver behind the zone, which is deflected beyond the zone, by rule has crossed the zone.
Defensive pass interference.
Many situations, especially those that may occur during pass plays, lend themselves to crew consultation. Getting the call right might necessitate putting together the puzzle by combining the observations of more than one official. That is not limited to possible fouls. On occasion, the umpire’s view of short passes over the middle may be crucial on catch/no catch calls involving trapped balls.
Whenever a flag is thrown on a pass play (as well as numerous other situations), there is likely more than one “covering” official. Those officials should immediately come together and compare notes. Ideally, they would then approach the referee with a common description of the foul.
It does not matter whether one or two flags are thrown. If there are multiple flags, the officials must ensure they had the same foul on the same player at the same spot. If only one flag is thrown, the referee should be wary, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem or a disagreement. In many situations, the foul may only be visible from a limited angle. In that case, one official will say that he couldn’t see what his partner saw and if he did not observe anything to contradict the calling official, the referee can proceed with a high degree of assurance that the play was called correctly.
Problems arise when two or more officials say they saw different and conflicting acts. Discussion may reveal that one official did not have as good a view as the other, or that one official will acknowledge he is unsure of what he saw. In those cases, it is relatively easy for the referee to decide how to proceed and if necessary, he can wave off a flag. Officials who are used to working with one another have mutual confidence and are not hesitant to defer when appropriate.
The referee’s greatest challenge occurs when two officials dig in their heels with opposing opinions. That’s most likely to happen when the timing of the contact is the issue, but can also occur if there are differing opinions as to whether both players were playing the ball.
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