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Old Wed Feb 20, 2008, 09:42am
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Being A Back Judge

Having never been a back judge, I am interested in hearing from those who have worked the position on what to expect.
Ed Hickland, MBA, CCP
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Old Wed Feb 20, 2008, 10:09am
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I'm a backjudge on a five man crew and I love it!

You are out in the middle of the field, you can talk out loud to yourself and people won't think you're crazy. I always say to myself the down and distance, who my key is, etc.

The B is should be the EXPERT on kicking rules! On punts it's all you (with some help from the LJ in a five man crew). If white is punting, and red is receiving, I say to myself before the snap, "First touching white, hot potato red." That reminds me that if white touches it first, we have a first-touching situation, and if red touches first it we have a live ball! On punts hold your beanbag in your hand and hold your whistle in your other hand. Bag the catch/touching/etc. If you have a foul, you can get your flag in plenty of time. HOLD YOUR WHISTLE. I killed a muff and denied a kicking team recovery one time after the receiver signalled a fair catch and I hit the whistle when it touched the ball, then muffed it. I have never done that again.

On kickoffs ask the kicker if he plans to kick it deep or onside. Develop a DISCREET signal you can use with your fellow officials to tip them off to an onside kick. That question helped our crew cover a suprise onside kick to start the second half of a game one time. If you don't want to develop a crew signal, at least YOU will know it's coming.

Participate in dead ball action. Relay the ball in on gains over five yards. If a run goes to a side zone, pinch toward that side zone (but don't get burned if the runner cuts to the middle), and help clean up dead ball action. The B's head should be on a swivel after the ball is dead looking for nonsense. The B can best spot trouble and clean it up, or flag it if necessary. If a play goes out of bounds hustle over to the sideline (especially if in the bench area) and help observe. You may go out of bounds yourself or cover the wing's spot while he wades into the bench area. Discuss this with your crew. A good B can really help of keeping a situation under control.

I line up 20 yards deep (sometimes deeper depending on the situation) and start moving back at the snap, even if its a running play. I'm not the fastest guy in the world and I don't want to get beaten to the goal-line! This may require you to pivot and turn your head over your shoulder. I've seen college and NFL deep officials do this.

Some guys say the B is in a rocking chair all game, but you can make this position an active and integral part of any crew and any level of play.
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Old Wed Feb 20, 2008, 10:53am
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Don't be beat to the goal line.
Working on back pedling and once a pass is in the air, move in that direction.
Recognize formations so you can pick out your snap-"Key"
Know the ins and outs of DPI and OPI.

Leave the coverage of the runner to the wings and watch the blocking. it opened my eyes a few times as to why the wing failed to see the illegal block.

Get a good easy to set and read timeclock to time the 25 seconds and timeouts.
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Old Wed Feb 20, 2008, 11:58am
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The stuff above is good. I would add...
1) you cannot let any receiver get behind you, even if the play looks like a run. That means you have to develop a "feel" for where they all are and focus on the deep routes if there are any. Once the ball is in the air, focus on the players in the area it will likely go.
2) don't lose that 20 yd cushion until you know the play is dead. Moving up too early is when the runner breaks from the pile and takes off. Besides, your responsibility is the wide view around the pile, so stay back.
3) stay inside the hash marks until you know the play is dead. Again, you have wide view around the pile. It does mean you have to bust in quick if you have to help in the side zone, but that's part of the fun of BJ.
4) any flag you throw is going to be big, so make sure the "foul" you see is really there and big. And remember, not all contact is PI and not all contact is the defense's fault.
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Old Wed Feb 20, 2008, 12:35pm
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I worked as a U for the past few years. I don't know what our BJ did between the RFP and the end of the play but I can say he was super when the play ended in the side zone. He'd close in and get the ball from the wing official and then relay it to me. It really helped keep the game moving and I think it helped us look crisp.
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Old Wed Feb 20, 2008, 02:35pm
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I am a H and I can tell you that our B was great when it came to plays ending in a side zone or OOB. He would be there almost as soon as the play ended and help with ball relay or seperating guys on the sideline/team area.

We have a system where the B counts the defense with the wing official whose team is on defense. This worked well. We also do not chase down footballs from incomplete passes in the deep side zones. The L or H will get a new ball relayed in and have the ballboy(person) retrieve the loose ball.

This "rocking chair" position can be physically demanding, especially with all the passing that teams try. Our B has shared with us more than once how tired/sore his legs would be but actually was not complaining as he didn't have to put up with near the crap that us sideline guys did. There were games where his biggest challenge was battling boredom.
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Old Wed Feb 20, 2008, 03:30pm
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The B is the guy on the field who is best poised to save everyone else's butt. On most plays he has few direct "threats" to worry about so he can help some with multiple "threats" facing other guys. This is especially true once the ball becomes dead. One issue that some new B's sometimes have is that they are so intent on getting up to participate in the ball relay, an important task, that they do not let their eyes continually dart around to get looks at everything that is going in. This is similar to the flank who is so intent on getting the dead ball spot that he burns a hole in the grass looking at the spot. As the B runs in to get in the relay he cannot afford to focus on ball boys and/or where the ball happens to be laying or rolling.

The joke is always about how the back judge just sits back in the rocking chair and watches the game. The concept that B is a great position to see a game from is true even if the inference that we have little to do is not true.
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Old Wed Feb 20, 2008, 04:32pm
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REPLY: One thing I'm always concerned with in observing B's is how they respond when the play ends in a sidezone close to or outside the sideline. Too many go rushing over there focused on nothing else but getting to the dead ball spot. Generally, that's not necessasry. There's a different sense of urgency when players go into a team box downfield from the previous spot. But under other circumstances there's no real need to rush over there. Move over cautiously, keeping your head on a swivel watching the activity ahead of the dead ball spot. And then scan back toward the middle of the field especially looking for the block coming from the weak side WR against the safety. I can't tell you the number of times I've seen a questionable block of this sort missed. Even in this, the weak side wing needs to move into the field of play and watch for this stuff.
Bob M.
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Old Wed Feb 20, 2008, 06:16pm
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Good point on being the EXPERT on the kicking game. Know the fundamentals of the rules such as when a kick ends, who can advance the ball, a fumble, a muff, ball breaking the plane of the endzone, etc.

BJ can be really active by helping relay the ball to the U. Also, BJ will "clean up" the plays by being a good dead ball official. When I was a BJ I had more late hit calls than anyone else on the crew. Watch the action in front of the runner on running plays. On passing plays when there is a foul, you must tell the R WHEN the foul occurred. This will affect the enforcement of the penalty. Communicate with the wings during pre-game as to what your coverages are. Also, at what scrimmage line you move from the GL to the endline.

I suggest a white bean bag because in deep grass on Friday nights, you have to retrieve it and get to the other side of the ball pretty quick after the play is over.

BJ is a great position and a lot of fun. Your perspective will allow you to see the holes open up on the running game and you can read the QB and go to the ball on passes. At times it will approach boredom but there will be several crucial calls during the game where you must be ready. Watch film of passing plays and visualize in your mind what is interference and what is incidental. Preparation is the key.

Have fun with it!
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Old Wed Feb 20, 2008, 10:23pm
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Speaking as a wingman, what I like from a BJ is to hear you. When I'm marking the OOB spot and I've got my back turned, its reassuring to hear that BJ talking to the players or even me as he approaches the sideline to help clean up the action off the ball.

Speaking as an occasional back-up BJ- I feel as if my arse is hanging outside my britches. After looking at the field from the side, its weird to be back there with all that "territory".
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Old Thu Feb 21, 2008, 09:39am
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I've been a U for most of my career (38 years). When I was working on a 4 man crew, I'd hear things going on behinds me and of course by the time I could turn to look ,whatever happened was over. Then as we went to 5 man crews I was very pleased to realize that the BJ literally "had my back" !!
A good back judge can really keep a game flowing too as it has been mentioned.
Keep everything in front of you
and have fun out there !!
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Old Thu Feb 21, 2008, 02:08pm
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I moved in from the wing to back judge last season and fell in love with the position.

Actually, the first time I did it (the season prior to last), I was bored out of my skull because it was a freshman game (why we had five guys, I'll never know) and neither team threw the ball more than a couple of times all game and it was a blowout besides.

But I found that I had a great view of everything, I enjoyed the hell out of not being able to hear coaches (or at least being able to pretend I didn't hear coaches) and learning the position was a fun challenge.

Another benefit is that you can talk to yourself out there and not seem too psycho (like if you're on the line talking to yourself). I always remind myself of what side the tight end is on, if he's eligible (by not being covered up - sometimes the angle is tough, but you can see by the yard lines if there's a flanker on his side or an end that would cover him and make him ineligible), what his number is in case he DOES go downfield and catch a pass. I'd shade a little bit to the strong side, and check off my keys one by one.

I also had a Ready Ref, which I loved.

Good advice above. Don't come up too quickly. Don't get beat deep. Make sure everybody knows when you have the goal line or the end line. I always remind the punt returner (at least the first time) that if he wants a fair catch, to make sure to give me a good signal, not some halfhearted wave.

Dead ball officiating is very important, as has been mentioned. And your calls are going to be more visible than those from the rest of your crew. The pass interference call is the one that every fan and coach thinks they can make easily and no matter if you throw the flag or not, no matter if you call OPI or DPI, half of the folks not in stripes are going to be pissed at you. As was mentioned, contact isn't always interference and interference isn't always defensive.

And I can't agree enough with the notion of holding your whistle. Keep that damn thing out of your mouth on kicks. I had the fair-catch, muff, whistle scenario happen to me. Never again.

All in all, I like being a back judge. But when I moved to Arizona, I found that they only have five man crews on varsity games (did I hear that correctly?), so no back judge unless it's on Friday nights.
"And I'm not just some fan, I've refereed football and basketball in addition to all the baseball I've umpired. I've never made a call that horrible in my life in any sport."---Greatest. Official. Ever.
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Old Thu Feb 21, 2008, 08:02pm
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I worked as back judge for the first time this season. Basically asked the same thing you did Ed and got a lot of good stuff. Used a lot of it on the field this year.

I will echo that I really like my Ready Ref - worth every penny!
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Old Fri Feb 22, 2008, 07:20am
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I got a casio watch for $35. It vibrates and you can set it to warn you 5 seconds prior to the 25 seconds. I love it. Much cheaper than the ready ref.
Check out my football officials resource page at
If you have a file you would like me to add, email me and I will get it posted.
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Old Fri Feb 22, 2008, 10:50am
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These answers are great!

Two additional questions.

1) How do you warn the offense the play clock is about to expire? Do you give a 5 or 10 second warning?

2) Given that you start moving backwards and you should be at the goal line when the runner crosses, how do you determine when to turn to move toward the goal line?
Ed Hickland, MBA, CCP
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