Flag on the Play
A Weekly Article by First Year Official Johnny Ivie
Was that Intentional?
I hope you are getting ready for the upcoming football season as much as I am. I know, like every year, it will hold all kinds of excitement and surprises. I for one love the build up, the thoughts of what if, and the wonderful end to the looooong break away from the greatest sport on earth. My oldest son, Noah is starting his first football season and I was surprised this past weekend to see how well he performed in the grass drills he participated in. He is going into a draft for a Youth Football League and I potentially could officiate one of his games. I am even more excited about this year and hope that I will be able to.
This week I am going to discuss a rule change that you may or may not have heard about. We all seem to think we know what intentional grounding is and I am sure there has been a call at a game that you have been to where it has been called and you agreed or disagreed with it. This has been true for me many times as well. It seems to be a clear cut case of a rule infraction when you read the rule book and yet sometimes when it comes up, everyone has an opinion. “No, he was throwing to #27 Ref!” “Come on Stripes! What are you looking at? The Receiver was right there!” I hear ya, I hear ya!
In the past, the rule was defined as a pass intentionally thrown away from an eligible receiver, out of the field of play, or a pass intentionally thrown incomplete to save loss of yardage or to conserve time. There is no Tackle Box in high school football like in the NFL so it doesn’t matter where the quarterback is on the field when he throws the pass. There is one exception to this rule and that is, it is legal to conserve time by intentionally throwing the ball forward to the ground immediately after receiving a direct hand-to-hand snap (more commonly referred to as the quarterback spiking the ball). The quarterback must immediately throw the ball forward at his own feet. However, he may be stepping backward to clear himself from the line of play.
Simple enough right? Well you may be surprised with the new rule change and I predict it may cause some controversy this football season and as well as many to come if it stays in place. The new change states that a quarterback can throw the ball anywhere on the field as long as it is “in the area” at which a potential receiver is. The question comes up as to what defines, “the area.” Much discussion has been given to this topic and right now the answers are confusing. The best answer right now is going to be that it depends on the circumstances of the play. Some discussion is that there has been a pre-determined distance of 7 yards which is not the case in the rule book. That is, if a thrown pass lands further than 7 yards from a potential receiver then it should be considered an intentional grounding. However, you do not have to be a football genius to see many problems with this analysis. As it stands, intentional grounding calls will now require even more crew communication than before. I also think it will be difficult to determine any sort of set distance based on the speed at which all this is happening and all the other things officials have to watch.
In making this kind of call game officials need to lock on to the direction of the pass, the scrambling of the quarterback, and the potential receivers effort in making the a potential catch before being able to judge how far away the ball is before calling a foul. The distances should be lengthened based on all these factors. I think it should be clear to everyone on the field before an intentional grounding is called. As you can see, all sorts of things can happen and I am excited to see what will come of this rule. My humble opinion is that is needs more narrowing of the definition but I will wait and see what happens. Please comment and let me know what your thoughts are or any suggestions you may have for future articles. Thanks for spending this time with me.