3-6-9-11. Huh? 12?
Working as a referee requires me to count the offense on every down and confirm the count with a signal to the umpire who is also counting the players. More than 12 (on the field) and the snap is imminent? Whistle, flag, and illegal substitution is called.
Often, a captain from the offending team gives me that “What? Us?” look and inquires about the call. Sometimes, for emphasis and maybe to lighten things up a bit I’ll reply, “You had 13 players on the field.” That usually gets a double take and often a smile. In reality, though 12 is common, I can never remember having 13 players on the field in the 14 years I’ve officiated high school football.
Forty years ago, my high school team only had two coaches. We rarely dressed out more than 35 players, and with only two coaches, it was very important for each player to know what was going on in the game and if he should be on the field. Special teams, certain down and distance situations and special plays all required the right personnel. You had to know if you were supposed to be on the field.
Nowadays, even small schools with low-number teams have as many as eight or 10 coaches. Typically, one of these coaches is burdened with the weighty responsibility of not only having 11 men on the field, but the correct 11. Remember this is at the high school level.
Shift gears to an NCAA BCS Division game in the SEC on national television (University of Tennessee vs. LSU) last evening. Tennessee is leading LSU 14-10, it’s the last play of the game with the clock running out, and neither team has any timeouts. Is it really that important to change out from three to five players at this crucial point in the game?
Regardless of how many coaches are involved and which players are wondering where they’re supposed to be, the buck will stop on Derek Dooley’s desk. The first-year coach of Tennessee will bear the responsibility and will have to make some very positive headlines to erase the memory of last night in Baton Rouge, when 13 of his players were on the field during what was supposed to be the game’s final snap—and after being penalized for it, LSU went on to win the game. There is no joy on Rocky Top tonight.
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