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Back to basics: The foundation of good officiating

The individual and collective psyche of NFL officials may be shaken after several rough games in the 2015 season. There are a few techniques that officials can use to help break out of real or perceived slump. One of the best techniques is getting back to the basics. The basics. Basic mechanics, rules, everything. NFL officials can do the basics in their sleep, but sometimes an emphasis on the basics can re-establish the foundation of good officiating.

Officials at all levels can start doing some of their duties by rote. This doesn’t mean they are lazy, but they can fall into skimming over some duties. “I counted 11 on defense on the last play, no subs came on during the dead ball, so I don’t need to count 11 again.” Or, officials don’t run through their entire pre-snap routine of cross-checking 11 men, the what keys they have, running through certain formation scenarios and reminding themselves of special timing rules.

So, when officials get back to the basics, they have to slow down. Spot the ball and count 11. Once they count 11, then confirm the count with the rest of the crew. Say aloud their key. The back judge says, “My key is the tight end, he’s number 81. Read what he does at the snap.” When there is a flag, confirm the status of the ball, enforcement options, and what the next down will be with the referee. At the start of the fourth quarter, confirm the special timing rules. When the clock gets under two minutes, make sure everyone is knows it is now time to enforce the forward fumble rule. Repeat the axions: The whistle doesn’t kill the play, it only announces the play is over. Slow whistle. Err on the side of safety. Call what you know, not what you think.

How does that help an official call a better game? When an official slows down, he deliberately runs through the proper rules to apply, he concentrates on getting in proper position, he concentrates on the player his is supposed to watch and he makes sure he communicates with his crew mates. The basics build the solid foundation for making great calls all game.

It would not surprise me if each crew stresses the basics for the rest of the season, to make sure officials call a solid game.



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Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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7 thoughts on “Back to basics: The foundation of good officiating

  1. Too bad they weren’t stressed back in JULY!! Go to clinics where the NFL officials are (paid well) there. If any of US committed the same egregious errors as they have, getting hired or advanced would NEVER happen. Let the hypocrisy continue….

  2. Maybe if they were not distracted by things like court appearances, lesson plans, or a family business… Things might go better on sunday..

  3. They should have had the basics burned into the routine years ago, in order to work this level. There is no 100% focus on each and every play. There is no attention to detail. It was never like this when I was on the field. Now? There are no repercussions for making the horrendous mistakes we see every single game. No accountability. Poor attitudes. All stemming from how they arrived here in the first place. Entitled. Connected and you are in. No matter how good or bad you were in college. You know somebody? Good chance of getting in. A minority? Even better chance. Those of us who know, understand the term “Skin or Kin and you are in.” That is how it has been for the last ten years. Jerome knows what I am talking about. The best officiated games we have seen in recent years was early 2012, with most – not all – of the replacement crews. Those guys were under extraordinary pressure and once most of the crap was weeded out in the pre-season? Ten of those crews were as a whole, much better than the garbage we see on the field now. Why? Accountability. Pure and simple. You screwed up? You were terminated. By week 3, most of those crews were in cruise control, and getting better and better. But for that idiot in Seattle (he would have been canned the next week, guaranteed) we would not be having this discussion today because the union incompetents would no longer have a job. Just like the MLB clowns 20 or so years ago. If it were me? Bring back the replacement crews.

  4. Thankfully Crusty, it isn’t you. To actually say in public that the scabs were better than the actual officials just shows how delusional and out of touch you are. You are wrong and you are an idiot.

    Also, tell us your name so we can know which Bitter Betty…err, I mean “retired vet” you are.

  5. The basics are ingrained at the grassroots level of sports. If you don’t have the basics, you will not move up in officiating. Counting players, knowing the down, positioning, penalty enforcement, etc. should all be second-nature by the time you get to amateur, college, and semi-pro games.
    But even professionals can mess up. April 2015, England vs. Norway U19 match, referee wrongly enforced the encroachment on a penalty kick. That caused the final seconds to be replayed from the point of the PK. 2005 in a World Cup Qualifier, FIFA ordered the whole match to be replayed between Uzbekistan and Bahrain for a similar incident.
    How 4 officials, a match supervisor, and an assessor missed this enforcement gaffe is unbelievable. How a 7-man crew plus other NFL league officials can get enforcement wrong is even more unbelievable.

    I think what has happened is that the NFL is putting a big emphasis on getting the calls right, but they are not reinforcing the basics. Good fundamentals lead to sound decisions on the field, but it seems like they are skipping the first step.

    Perhaps the NFL should take away games from officials during the season if their performances are not good enough. Most other sports have some form of this. It would mean the NFL needs a larger pool of officials, but that would allow more opportunities for new officials to step up.

  6. Anon, YOU are an idiot. DO you know that in 2012 Ed Hochuli faced the wrong way 3 times on national tv?! I have them on DVD. Also, in SF Week 5 that season they let 1;18 run off the clock DURING A MEASUREMENT, and they did not change it.

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