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Onside kick to start overtime causes enforcement nightmare

sea onside OT

Week 1: Seahawks at Rams (video)

A surprise onside kick didn’t catch the Rams napping, but it wound up catching the officiating crew off guard.

The Steven Hauschka kick was popped straight up into the air, and Rams receiver Bradley Marquez signaled for a fair catch and successfully and cleanly caught the ball. Although it is not common on a kickoff, any receiving team player may signal a fair catch.

Referee Jeff Triplette announced that they were ruling that the ball skipped off the turf right off the tee, and that a fair catch could not be called. However, he then announced that this made the fair catch signal invalid, and therefore a foul, which would be assessed on a re-kick. Triplette’s crew reassembled, and they determined the ball never touched the ground, which resulted in picking up the invalid fair-catch signal flag.

But Triplette and his crew could not seem to get this one right:

  1. The invalid-fair-catch-signal foul is written in a manner to capture vague signals that would deceive the defense. In this case, it was a clear declaration to call for a fair catch, even though the receiver really cannot tell if the ball skipped off the field surface.
  2. An invalid fair-catch signal would be enforced as a five-yard penalty from the spot of the signal, and not assessed on a re-kick as Triplette had stated.
  3. By eventually declaring the fair catch signal valid, it then should have resulted in the Seahawks being assessed for a late hit after the catch. This should have given the Rams 15 yards from the spot of the foul. The Rams could have put the ball in play after the penalty with a first-down snap or by a fair-catch kick.

Replay cannot be used to check if the ball touched the ground.

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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9 thoughts on “Onside kick to start overtime causes enforcement nightmare

  1. Wow….good thing the regular guys were out there and not the replacements. This message board would be FILLED with negative comments. Good thing Triplette and his crew got those pay raises in 2012!!

  2. I’m just an ex-high school football coach, but when I saw this fiasco, even *I* knew almost every ruling the officials made was wrong. They DID gather to discuss whether the ball had been kicked into the ground, and changed the originally ruling that it had. That wasn’t even CLOSE, fellas! And then when it was determined the fair catch signal was valid, how can they not penalize for roughing after a fair catch? Incompetence reared its head BIG TIME in this instance……………

  3. “Replay cannot be used to check if the ball touched the ground”… because the replay rules are arbitrary and stupid.

  4. By the reasoning that you used to describe this rule, on a punt that is clearly going over the head of the receiving team’s punt return man and he calls for a fair catch to slow the punting teams gunners down with no intent to catch it and hope that it goes into the end zone for a touch-back that is just as clearly to be considered a invalid fair catch signal and should result in a penalty to the receiving team.

  5. Found this post while looking something else up. Just a few things…1. the officials have accountability; the are suspended or fined for improper calls/enforcement. 2. You all get the easy job of critiicizing after multiple video replays, the officials have one shot, live to get it right. 3. When each of you step up and do the job they are doing then you can bitch otherwise shut up. 4. It isn’t incompetence, it just a mistake. 5. Officials don’t cost teams games, teams do. When a team plays a perfect game and a coach coaches a perfect game then the officials should be expected to be perfect also but until then don’t hold them to a higher standard than the coaches and players. 6. What makes it so damn funny is that most fans couldn’t explain or quote rules anyway!

  6. Josh, it’s good that someone takes the proactive side for these officials, but I’m concerned that you may be TOO proactive!
    #1 – What was the accountability for this mistake?
    #2 – You’re right. Officials get fewer opportunities to get it right. But they also get paid good wages to get it right. And using advanced video replay equipment/techniques, they STILL got it wrong!
    #3 – Taking the position that since we don’t officiate we shouldn’t criticize is disingenuous, at best. And using the rhetoric, “SHUT UP!” does little to validate any argument you may be attempting to make. (a.) We still live in the U.S. of A., and despite some attempts to destroy it, our Law of the Land still gives us the right of free speech and expression thereof. (b.) Our $$$$ giving us access to the NFL games – among other things – buys us the right to have a say in how those NFL games are conducted. Admittedly, VERY little say, but then again, in the scheme-of-things, we DO say very little.
    #4 – It *IS* incompetence! Choose any dictionary definition of the word, and you’ll struggle to deny that. OK. I agree – and previously posted so – that the officials conferred to confirm the ball had NOT be driven into the ground, as first ruled. That is a positive. The INCOMPETENCE comes in the fact that NO ONE – not the officials on the field nor the replay crew wherever they may be – got the “invalid fair catch” call right. (See Ben Austro’s 3 points on this issue.)
    #5 – Officials DO cost teams games! Agreed that teams – including coaches – make most of the mistakes that contribute to the loss of games, but OFFICIALS are in a position to make – or refrain from making – crucial calls which determine the final outcome of those contests. And most of us DO hold coaches and players responsible for their mistakes, rightfully so. (ie – final Seahawk offensive call vs. NE.) Why should we then WITHHOLD criticism of officials? Thin-skinned individuals don’t belong in the public spotlight.

    #6 – Again, Josh, you are right that most fans can’t expain nor quote the rules, but then again, they aren’t paid to do so, either, are they? I’ve been a football official, FAR below the NFL level, and I can tell you we spent HOURS studying the NFHS rule books, case books, and rules interpretations. We reinforced each other with weekly as well as pre-game quizes and role-playing. We took pride in doing our jobs well, but do you know what? We took responsibility when we got it wrong! WE considered ourselves the “professionals,” and took our licks, but vowed to remedy our mistakes before the next game. Some couldn’t take the pressure, and left the officiating corps. But NONE of us took the postion that fans didn’t deserve to criticise our judgements. We were just challenged to make those judgements as correct as possible in the future……………..

  7. Hi Gary! I am a sports official as well. In the last 25 years, I have officiated four different sports ranging from collegiate and national championship games on down. With that being said, while you are correct that telling people to shut up has little or no impact, it does draw attention to my post and thereby my position! Which, by the way, was my intention.I don’t know what the accountability was for this play but officials in the NFL are routinely fined and/suspended for improper penalty enforcement or lack thereof. While NFL officials are paid, I wouldn’t classify that compensation as excessive or even substantial given the hours they put in and the standard they are held to each and every game especially when compared to the players and coaching staffs of the teams they are officiating. Next, I still contend that they weren’t incompetent; remember that the rule states that there must be incontrovertible evidence and there is the chance that in their OPINION that standard was not met, regardless of what others see or think. I would say that as opposed to incompetent they may have been prideful or stubborn and neither of those attitudes has a place in officiating. I also disagree that because someone pays to watch a game that they have a right to criticize. That would be like saying saying that because you contribute to a campaign or vote vote for a particular candidate that you get a direct say in how the government is run. While freedom of speech is a constitututional right that I fought for it doesn’t give people the right to be slanderous or be insulting. I also disagree that officials cost teams games. In my time as an official, ref, umpire, etc, I have yet to see an official intentionally call/no call in order the affect the outcome of a game even though they clearly do have that power, as you pointed out. If a team played perfectly then there would be no need for officials. How many first down weren’t converted, how many passes were dropped or thrown incomplete, how many runs didn’t go the distance, how many blocks were missed? If being human makes teams and games imperfect then why should referees be held to a higher and impossible standard? Replay has ruined professional and college sports, in my opinion. Maybe the rule should be changed to “if Team A has played a statistically perfect game, to that point, as judged by independent instant replay then play “X” could then be reviewed. And finally, fans who don’t know the rules and coaches who are emotionally involved in games should refrain from, unprofessional, irresponsible, impulse and emotion driven, insulting and threatening statements and epithets. Just because I and my co-workers have thick skin (we do or we don’t last long in my association) and we control ourselves by not responding to multiple opportunities of being provoked doesn’t mean we should be subjects to childish behavior. The best way to change a person’s behavior, poor or otherwise, is to provide them with similar experience. Maybe they should all try being officials before they speak.

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