Officially Speaking: Week One

In a new feature here at tBBC, we’ll ask our cadre of stellar high school and college officials to weigh in on an interesting, confusing, or controversial call from the previous week. First up, Ohio State at Navy

In Baltimore this weekend, the officials were called into service early to make a decision on a possible Navy touchdown. In looking at this play, what are important factors for the fans to be aware of? What is the rule in play here? What are the official’s positions in this play, and what are they looking for to make a final determination?


OK Buckeye: The first thing we need to understand is that on a play like this one, rules knowledge, mechanics (positioning and responsibilities), crew communication, and judgment all come in to play. This week, I was lucky enough to be able to watch tOSU live (which is rare) and when I first saw this play, my thought in real time was TD. Let’s walk through the 4 areas, before we critique how the crew did:

1) Rules in play. I will always provide rule citations. For the college rules, there are rules, approved rulings (complex situations and circumstances where the rules committee states clearly its expected interpretation of the rules), and national officiating philosophies which are also handed down on a national level. For this play, only rules and approved rulings will be needed to understand the play. They are:

2.12.2- Goal lines: The goal line at each end of the field of play runs between the sidelines and is part of the vertical plane that separates the end zone from the field of play. This plane extends between and includes the pylons.

2.27.15.a.1- Out of bounds player:  A player is out of bounds when any part of his body touches anything other than another player or a game official on or outside a boundary line.

2.31.3.b- End Zone: The goal line and goal line pylons are in the end zone.

4.1.3.b- Ball Becomes Dead: When any part of the ball carrier’s body, except his hand or foot, touches the ground…

4.2.4.b- Out of Bounds at Forward Point: A touchdown is scored if the ball is inbounds and has broken the plane of the goal line (Rule 2-12-2) before or simultaneous to the ball carrier going out of bounds.

8.2.1.a- Touchdown: A touchdown shall be scored when: a. A ball carrier advancing from the field of play has possession of a live ball when it penetrates the plane of the opponent’s goal line. This plane extends beyond the pylons only for a player who touches the ground in the end zone or a pylon. (A.R. 8-2-1-I-IX).

A.R. 8.2.1.V: Ball carrier A22 dives for the goal line at the B-1. The ball in his possession (a) touches the pylon; (b) goes over the top of the pylon; (c) crosses the goal line inside the pylon. A22 then first contacts the ground out of bounds three yards beyond the goal line.

RULING: (a), (b) and (c) Touchdown in all three. The ball in A22’s possession has broken the plane of the goal line in all three scenarios.

2) Mechanics. Two officials are ruling on this play. In both 7 and 8 man mechanics (and we’ll see both utilized this year in D1), the wing official (HL) at the snap immediately goes to the goal line. Forward progress and whether or not a TD is scored are two of his primary responsibilities. The deep wing official (SJ), is positioned on the end line and the sideline so that he can rule on both lines. On this play, even though he is 10-12 yards down field, he will be ruling on whether or not the runner was out of bounds before the ball hits the pylon.

3) Crew communication: The HL on this play needs to see two things to rule a TD. One, did the ball penetrate the plane of the goal line in possession of a Navy player and was that player down or out of bounds. The HL is ruling on whether or not the ball carrier was down before penetration, but needs help from his SJ to determine whether or not the ball carrier was out of bounds before penetration of the goal line. This communication can be verbal, a head nod, or a punch signal in bounds or any combination of the three.

This is a tight play. Once it was ruled a TD on the field, there was no way that it was going to be overturned by video review. The play is that close/tight. By rule, this is clearly a TD (see A.R. 8.2.1.V). The only question was whether or not the player was down first. The player was not out of bounds, although I am not sure that the HL and the SJ had very good communication to that effect. The HL does not look to the SJ before ruling. Certainly, something verbal could have been said and I would anticipate this is what happened given that it is a neutral field and was less noisy than the Shoe would be. It is bang bang on whether or not the knee is down before the ball hits the pylon. In my opinion, live it was a TD. On replay, it is very close. Had the official ruled the ball carrier down, I do not think there was enough evidence to over turn that call either.

This is why officials spend hundreds of hours and years working high school and small college football before they ever smell a major college game. At the end of the day, officiating judgment is still the number one value for a great official. In this case, I think the crew did all anyone could ask of them.

Gary: I may have a different view on this than most. As I watched this play I knew it would be one that everyone talked about. At no time during watching it live or during the replay did I feel the crew did anything wrong nor did I disagree with the call. In fact, I had many arguments with family members because I had agreed with the officials.

The speed of the game can play a critical role in certain plays. In this play the crew had all this fast action culminating at one point. The crew communicated with what they felt was the correct call at the time. Then during the review there was nothing conclusive to reverse their call. After reading the official rules and mechanics on the play, I have to agree with OK that this crew did the best they could and that’s all that anyone can ask.

Patrick: Here’s my “official’s opinion” of the play……first and for most, to me his knee came down out of bounds before he reached out and touched the pylon.  I’ll be honest, I had to go back and look at the rule as far as if you had to touch inside the pylon or not. Either or, I don’t know how they get around the knee being down before he touches.


Charles: OK Buckeye did a great job presenting all of the relevant rules for this situation.  Essentially they boil down to it being a touchdown if the ball, while in possession of an offensive player, touches the pylon before the player is down or out-of-bounds.  The ball clearly hit the pylon in this case so the only question is whether the player had gone out-of-bounds first.

The positioning of the officials on this play was spot on.  The head linesman got to the goal line upon the snap of the ball, as he should, so that he could see if the ball broke the plane of the goal line.  The side judge appeared to be properly positioned on the corner of the sideline and the back line of the endzone, giving him the ability to rule on players being in or out-of-bounds.  As officials we are taught to call what we see, not what we believed happened.  The HL saw the ball touch the pylon but from his position there was no way he could get a good look at the Navy player’s leg and still watch the goal line like he should.  The last thing he saw was the Navy play in-bounds and thus he properly decided that based on that information it was a touchdown.  The SJ was the only official in position to determine if the runner went out-of-bounds before the ball touched the pylon and in a case like this, there should be some communication between the HL and the SJ before making a ruling.  While we didn’t see any obvious sign of communication, we do not know if the SJ said something before the HL signaled touchdown.

This was a bang-bang play and while us fans at home had the benefit of multiple replays including ones in slow motion and even freeze frames, the officials on the field had one look at the play in real time.  The call on the field could have gone either way based on how close it was but I feel that calling it a touchdown was the better call on the field based on the play.  With how close the replay was, there was no way that the call on the field could have been reversed, no matter what it was.

WVa: If you watch “both” officials, it would appear that the wing simply has the GL and all the ball carrier has to do is touch it. It’s part of the goalline extended.

If the player left the ground while in bounds and still touches it or crosses it. It’s a score. It’s the same at all levels.

My issue with the play is that the side judge can help on inbounds and out of bounds here I believe and may have had a good look. The truth of the matter is that in real time it looks as though it’s a score and they replay officials don’t have a good look. Later in the game they had cameras at the GL after that issue.

After Further Review: Buckeye fans may not like it, but given the rules and responsibilities of those who observe and enforce them, this play was called correctly.