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In the chaos of a fumble scrum, how officials seek a quick resolution of possession

Officials have mechanics for everything, including for one of the most chaotic moments on the field.



Football officials have mechanics for everything. Believe it or not, they even have mechanics for a pile up and fumble scrum.

It is critical for the officials to get to the bottom of the pile and determine possession as soon as possible. First of all, possession can change hands under the pile. Secondly, the longer it takes to rule on possession, the more frustrated and angry players and coaches become.

So, when there is a fumble and pile up, here’s what should happen:

  • The first official on the scene hits the dirt or turf and starts digging into the pile trying to peel players off and find the ball.
  • The second wave of officials stand at the pile to help peel players off, and to make sure already-peeled-off players stay peeled off.
  • The remaining official or officials orbit the pile, looking for upset or angry players. Upset and angry players can start fights, so it’s important for the official to calm those players down, or provide a presence to make the player think twice before trying anything stupid.

Since 2015, it has been illegal for players to pull an opponent off of a pile. This can get the pulled-off player upset and can start a fight. The penalty is unsportsmanlike conduct, on any player who … helps an official pull an opponent off of the pile. It is up to the second layer of officials to watch for this illegal action.

Shawn Smith’s shows excellent fumble scrum mechanics in this clip:

In the clip, you might hear umpire Bryan Neale yelling “white,” the color of the team in possession of the ball. He relies on the second ring of officials to signal possession. Believe me, when on the ground, it is easy to get turned around and point the wrong way.

Fumble scrums look like chaos (and they are). But, while chaos reigns, officials have set mechanics to determine possession as quickly as possible.

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?"