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Football Rules!

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“Why do you let him call a game? He doesn’t know the rules!” I shouted from the stands. It was 1996 at my son’s school. They were playing a football game against a cross-town rival with a playoff spot at risk. The officials made the call, and I made a fool out of myself. It wasn’t the first time and wouldn’t be the last. A defensive back for our team had interfered with the receiver, but the ball had sailed way high over both of them into the stands. It was uncatchable. The interference call would stand and I would be livid for the remainder of the game.

The next summer, when it was time for new officials to register, I signed up. One of the first things I learned was that there are three different sets of rules. Three. How could I have made it to forty-five years of age, watched thousands of football games including high school, college, and professional ones, and not known that? What an moron! I’ve earned the right to call ignorant fans the same thing. I certainly was both.
Not me!
In 1996 and still today, in 2010, there is no consideration for a pass being “uncatchable.” Pass interference restrictions begin for the offense at the snap (they have the advantage of knowing what the play will be) and they begin for the defense when the ball leaves the passer’s hand. Watch for a more thorough discussion of pass interference in a future column.

Another commonly noticed rule difference regards violations of the neutral zone. In high school it is referred to as “encroachment,” not “off sides,” and contact is not necessary for a foul to occur. Once the referee marks the ball ready for play, neither team may enter the neutral zone until the ball is snapped (except the snapper). The NZ is the width of the ball and runs from sideline to sideline. Sometimes wide receivers line up illegally or begin to move prior to the snap causing a foul. It’s not just the interior linemen or the backs that cause problems. If a defensive player enters the NZ because a player on offense moved, that is not a NZ violation; that’s a false start and costs the team with the ball five yards.

Next time you question a call, make sure you know where you are. Is it a high school, college, or professional game? Don’t be too concerned about not knowing the rules. Amazingly, most high school coaches don’t know them very well either.

Our next column will address intentional grounding and the “between the tackles” rule.

 

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About FCEtier

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Sometimes I am confused by the rules in football; therefore, I appreciate a column like this to help sort it all out. Thanks!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    As an immigrant, the rules of American football sometimes seem so complex as to make little or no logical sense.

    If I have it right, a player may with perfect legality charge into an opponent at a velocity sufficient to separate his body into several interestingly squishy parts, as long as he approaches him at an angle of no greater than 17.28 degrees as measured from the bridge of the opponent’s nose, unless the quarterback’s name is Charlie, it’s a Monday and it snowed in Indianapolis that morning, in which case you can merely pop out the guy’s left kneecap and eat it, but only with soy sauce.

    Yet even think about touching his helmet, and your arse is grarse.

  • Bernie Kleinstein

    Vic and Doc,
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
    When I started officiating 14 seasons ago, I was told then that football rules are the most complicated of any sport. I believe it!

  • http://www.secsportsfan.com D Greenough

    I think we have all watched a game in which we have disagreed with the calls made but, isn’t that part of the fun? I can remember many times when I sat on my couch screaming at the top of my lungs…at the television set…and if anyone had seen me they would have laughed hysterically.

    Football wouldn’t be as exciting if the rules were always cut and dry.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    I watched quite a lot of the NFL last season and was actually starting to get the hang of why the officials would make particular obscure decisions – and even why one play would be called legal while another play, which to my untrained eye looked identical, was ruled a foul. The TV commentators are actually pretty good at explaining the reasons for most calls, and they don’t miss much. Unfortunately, it’s been a few months and I’ve forgotten most of what I picked up.

    In my own favourite sport of football (soccer to you heathens), it’s the offside rule which causes the most perplexity and controversy. To my mind, offside is perfectly straightforward and easy to understand – it’s explaining it that isn’t!