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Old Fri Aug 27, 2004, 07:53pm
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It's an article I did for the NFHS's Officials' Quarterly - 1999 Fall issue.

Thought I would put it in its own topic.

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Back Judge - Forgotten Man in High School Officiating
by Neville Owen


Those of us who referee high school football have seen in recent years in tremendous increase in the ability and inclination of teams to throw the football. With that change in the game has come a corresponding change in the mechanics of local football associations who are going to five man crews to better cover the passing game. The purpose of this article is to outline and discuss some of the nuances of being the back judge in a high school football game.

Knowing the rules is important, but knowing how to apply them in a given situation and how they will impact the play is called Officiating. Merely seeing a foul and throwing a penalty flag without understanding its impact is an indication that an official either needs more experience or a better understanding of the game. For example - fourth down and eight, the QB throws a pass beyond the line, an offensive receiver commits what might be called pass interference on an uncatchable pass. The ball will go over to Team B on downs - to enforce a 15 yard penalty on a borderline play where the team loses the ball anyway doesn’t fit the situation. The back judge’s responsibility is to rule on many situations like this one. With the exception of delay of game, the back judge enforces penalties that significantly impact the game - pass interference (offense & defense), holding, late hits, etc.

A delayed flag comes into play on many of the back judge’s calls. The tight end is held at the line - delay the flag. If the QB is tackled for a loss and you think the tight end was the intended receiver - throw the flag. If the play was a dive up the middle, hold the flag, but let the defender know that you saw the hold. A foul which had no impact on the play need not be called. A foul that is committed beyond the end of the run that should be called is one involving player safety. Safety fouls are called regardless of the score or the direct impact on the play. Player safety is paramount.

The punt. If something is to go wrong, it often occurs on a punt. The back judge is responsible for too many players on the field, first touching, advance of a fumble, fair catch interference and the blocking on a run back. The back judge should review all the possibilities that can occur during a punt before the game and just prior to the actual punt. Any penalty during the kick that gives the ball back to the kicking team has to significantly impact the play. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t be called. Fourth and six, the left defensive end holds, the kick goes out of bounds on the fly - no flag. If the same defensive end grabs the face mask, throw a flag - no matter what happens to the ball.

Position. The back judge has a very large area to cover. Starting with the play at the line-of scrimmage and extending out the back of the end zone, from sideline to sideline, including the out-of-bounds immediately adjacent to those areas. He must be very mobile, and even then it can be quite challenging. The back judge needs to be very skilled at reading formations, plays, and team tendencies. He keys the tight end at the snap - if the end is a potent weapon in that team’s arsenal he needs to pay close attention to the contact and the pass routes run from different formations. He must be able to read the movement of the QB and the receivers at the same time. Knowing the team tendencies and individual match-ups will help determine which player is likely to be the intended receiver. It has been my experience that the intended receivers run their patterns with more enthusiasm than those who do not expect a pass. The back judge may have three receivers coming down field on one side at the same time. Having an idea of where the play might be going will assist you in obtaining good position in order to rule on the play.

Game Control. The back judge plays a major role in game control, especially during dead ball periods. Nothing erodes the fabric of a game faster than missing a dead ball personal foul. When the other officials are performing their duties in getting ready for the next play, the back judge should make his presence known and be in position to keenly observe and confront any behavior that jeopardizes game control. An example would be to approach the defensive team huddle to inform the captain that #10 has been warned and to admonish him to control that player so that he doesn’t cost his team an unnecessary penalty. This places the burden on the players to police themselves and we all know what an effective toll peer pressure can be. As officials we should always speak to players and coaches in a calm and controlled manner. I have found it helpful to be as positive as possible, often making a special effort to acknowledge a nice play and especially good sportsmanship. Remember, you are more like a facilitator than a disciplinarian.

The primary reason for the game is to provide a forum for student-athletes to learn mental and physical skills, discipline, leadership and sportsmanship. Winning is clearly secondary to developing those skills and attitudes. As the back judge, you can work effectively with other members of the crew and with the coaches to maintain an environment where all of the aforementioned may take place.
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