Official Review - Washington Spearing Penalty

by David Brox, davidbrox@shukc.com

I wanted to share the evaluation from an area offical on the Washington spearing penalty.  After this post however I will consider this topic closed until after the season.  I don't want these posts to be a distraction.  I encourage all players on the team to look forward to your district matchups this week.  Nothing will change what has happened.  You can only control what happens this week in practice and on Friday night.

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If I use CAPS in this, it's not because I'm yelling or anything, I'm just stressing that portion of the statement.

First off, this film is about useless for me being able to determine if this is a foul or not.  What it is, though, is useful for me to talk about mechanics used on this call.  Mechanics put the crew in the best position to make the correct calls.  They insure that each person has their own area/players or "pond" to operate in.  I use the term "fish in your own pond" a lot.

Secondly...  Let's look at the definition of spearing (and this is from memory so it may not be exact, I don't have a rule book on me).  Spearing is in definitions so rule 2.  I believe it's in the helmet contact article in the 20's.  Spearing is where a player (offensive or defensive) initiates contact against any opponent with the top / crown of his helmet.

If the calling official deemed that the ball carrier initiated the contact with the top of his helmet, then this is a good call.  But, the calling official needs to ask himself:  "Was the ball carrier hit, spun around, knocked off balance in anyway that effected him / cause him to lower his head to contact using the top of his helmet (and my personally  philosophy) to punish the opponent, and did the ball carrier initiate this contact."  

If this was the case, and the official used this thought process and still deemed the action to be spearing, I'm good with his flag.  Again, I can't really use this film to ascertain whether the action is a foul or not.  In my opinion, if the ball carrier is contacted in any way prior to contact being made with the helmet, it's not the ball carrier's intention to use the top of his helmet (to punish).  

Essentially, there needs to be no doubt in his mind "He lowered his head in order to use his helmet as a weapon to punish his opponent."  Player safety NEEDS to be at the forefront of the minds of officials, but we can't call what's not there.  Players's helmets are going to make contact with one another.  It's the job of an official to use or judgement to determine if the helmet is being used as a "weapon" to "punish" the opponent.

If the calling official puts a flag down and has gone through this thought process, I've got no problem with him making this call if he determines the ball carrier used his helmet.  Player safety needs to be at the forefront of our minds as officials, but don't call what's not there.  Players' helmets are going to make contact with one another.  It's our job to use our judgement to determine if the helmet is being used as a "weapon" to "punish" the opponent.

Third...  And I can't tell this from the film with 100% certainty, do we get the penalty enforcement right.  I'm heavily leaning to NO.  You stated:  

The touchdown was nullified for spearing (on the running back).   The penalty was assessed 15 yards, making it 2nd and goal on the Wyandotte 20 yard line with 10 seconds to go."

How do we know what the penalty enforcement should have been?  We need two pieces of information.

1)  Was this a live ball foul - Did the spearing take place during between the time the ball was snapped and the time the ball crossed the goal line?
2)  Was this a dead ball foul - Did the spearing take place after the ball had crossed the goal line?

Either way, the enforcement of the penalty this crew used is ONLY correct if the "spearing" foul took place at the 5 yard line.  This would make it a live ball foul, and if it happened at the 5 yard line, you would have a correct enforcement from the spot of the foul.   From the film, it doesn't look like that is the case.  It looks like it happens near the goal line, but I can't tell if that ball is in or out of the end zone.  

However, the status of the clock after enforcing the penalty would still be incorrect, whether the penalty takes place inside or outside of the endzone, because the result of the play was a touchdown.  The touchdown stopped the clock, not the official because a penalty needed to be enforced.  Since the TD stopped the clock, the clock should not have started until the ball was snapped for the next play.

1)  If it took place at the 4, 3, 2, or 1 yard line...  The crew should have enforced the penalty from the spot of the foul 15 yards.  If it took place at the 2, the result should have been 2nd and Goal at the 17.  If the penalty took place at the 1, 2, 3 etc. the game clock should still have started on the snap, as the TD stopped the clock, not the penalty.

2)  If the penalty took place in the endzone...  Then we have a HUGE problem because the penalty was GROSSLY mis-enforced.  If the foul took place in the endzone, that means the ball carrier crossed the goal line, SCORING, making that down over with and the play dead.  We now would have a dead ball penalty, which would be enforced on the next play.  In this instance, since it was a scoring play, the defense could elect to put the 15 yard penalty on the extra point (making the extra point or two point try start at the 18 yard line) or the ensuing kick-off (kicking off from the 25 yard line).   The score would stand.   6 points for the offense.  PAT to follow.

Like I said, I can't see from this film if the crew enforced the penalty correctly.  I can't see where the penalty occurs and where the ball carrier and ball is.  However, the clock being allowed to run out, is incorrect.

If the crew got it right, good for those guys.  If they got it wrong, hopefully the to the initiative to look into the rule book, look up the rules and find out the correct way to deal with this penalty.  Hopefully, knowing the messed up a call that effected the outcome of a game bothered them.  If they were bothered enough to look up the rules and realize a mistake was made and the mistake being make does upset them, I bet they never get a call like this wrong again because they'll remember messing this one up.  I've had things happen where I didn't know the correct procedure (maybe I got it right or wrong), but I'll never get a scenario like that wrong again.  I've learned, just like I hope they learn from this.

Now, let's look at the mechanics on this play, specifically from the umpire.

As an umpire, myself, I'm NEVER going to make this call, because I'm probably never going to see this foul happen.  The umpire shouldn't be watching the ball carrier.  The umpire has his keys (players to watch) being the center, the guard diagonally from him but in front of the referee, and the tackle diagonally from him but in front of the referee.  They are the umpire's responsibility.  If the umpire can make this call, he can't be keeping his responsibilities in sight because the ball carrier goes through the opposite side of the line from him.  He has NO reason to be watching the ball carrier, therefore, shouldn't know if he was guilty of spearing or not.  This call could have been made by the linesman or line judge (which would have aided in the process of assessing this penalty because they would have known for sure whether the ball had crossed the goal line or not, and, therefore, known if the penalty was a live ball foul or dead ball foul).  The umpire was definitely "fishing in someone else's pond."

A football officials crew works like the parts of a car.  Each part has it's own job.  The air conditioner doesn't to the engine's job.  If it tries to, things get messed up.  A crew must trust one another to do their job and their job only.  If ONE person doesn't stay in their own pond, lines get tangled and the fish we should have seen and caught get missed.