Officials Had Their Hands Full

At the Utah football game last Saturday, I stood on the sideline watching the action and talking to fans. It was quite noticeable that the fans were not pleased with the officials. Usually, when 13 penalties are called against the home team, fans will tend to be a little more aggressive toward the guys with the yellow hankies in their pockets.

Most of the penalties called against the Utes were of a more severe nature, meaning over 10 yards apiece. The Utes racked up 158 yards in penalties. South Florida was guilty of 10 penalties for 77 yards.

In the press box sat a man from the Mountain West Conference who was the officials evaluator. He was there to critique the refs in an unbiased manner. I could tell that he was impressed with the officials.

I am an experienced football official, and I was actually impressed with the officials in the game against South Florida, despite what most of the fans said. I?ll tell you why.

On the play when U receiver Paris Jackson caught a 10 yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, it was a very close call. Jackson caught the ball while falling out of bounds. The question as to whether or not it was a touchdown was if Jackson got one foot to touch the ground in-bounds while in possession of the ball.

The replay showed it was very close, but the linesman did not have the luxury of instant replay. He had to make the call the best he could on the spur of the moment.

First of all, he was right on top of the play. He was in perfect position to see the play and get the correct call.

Second, he did not rush to make the call. After the catch was made, the official literally took one or two seconds to throw his arms up in the air to signal a touchdown. Those were perfect mechanics used by the official.

Third, he waited to see if his partner, the side judge, saw anything different. When the side judge did not signal an incomplete pass, the linesman knew it was his call.

Utah fans would agree that was a good call. Of course it was a good call?it gave the Utes a touchdown! But had it been for South Florida, it still would have been a good call, because the officials did everything to make sure the call was correct.

But that was just one play. Most of the remainder of the game showed yellow hankies flying against the Utes. Pass interferences, personal fouls, unsportsmanlike penalties are just some of what was called against Utah.

That makes fans want to boo, and they did. But why did the officials call so many harsh penalties? Simple. In a game where there is a blow out, like in Saturday?s game, the officials, although always cautious about cheap play, are even more concerned about unsportsmanlike penalties than at other times. Players are upset and want to throw cheap shots to vent their frustrations. It is the officials’ job to prevent those and penalize the offending team when it does occur. The officials did that.

On another play, South Florida?s defensive lineman jumped offside. When he realized he was offside, he hit the Ute offensive lineman intentionally, knocking him back. He apparently thought since he was already going to be penalized five yards, he might as well knock someone down just for fun. The officials, instead of moving the chains five yards for offsides, moved them 15 yards for another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Perfect! When hits are intentional and unnecessary, they are unsportsmanlike and should be penalized.

Many will argue that football is a rough, contact sport. It is. I do not question that. I love hard hits that make you squirm just watching them. However, it is intended, and always has been intended, to be a sportsman?s game. If you want cheap, dirty, in-your-face action, go watch the WWF. The XFL tried to integrate taunting, cheap shots and unsportsmanlike behavior into football and it failed miserably.

One of the greatest acts I see on the field is when a defensive player drills the ball carrier, making everyone say ?oohh!,? but then helps the player up after the ball is dead. That shows a sign of confidence and intelligence.

The officials, despite pulling their flags 23 times, did an outstanding job. Most of them do. They?ve paid their dues. They know the game. Many of them are former players themselves.

On Oct. 20, when the Utes host the Wyoming Cowboys, watch to see how the officials handle the players. You will find that they know their business.

Lance welcomes feedback at: [email protected].