Hey Ref! Doncha Know The Rules?


t’s a question all officials hear at some point in their careers. Unfortunately, fans yelling it from the stands are usually unaware the game they are watching isn’t played by the same set of rules they are used to seeing on TV.

There are myriad examples of that sort of rules ignorance, but we’ve highlighted a few here. See if these look (and sound) familiar.

“Blow the whistle! He’s in the grasp!”

There was a time when NFL rules had “in the grasp” as a means of protecting quarterbacks. In NFHS and NCAA, a runner is not considered downed until something other than his hand or foot touches the ground or his forward progress is stopped. While the player in the photo may be being pulled backward and may no longer be gaining ground, the mere fact that an opponent has a firm grip on him does not make him down.

“You can’t call a facemask foul on the offense!”

Rules regarding grasping the facemask apply to both teams. In NFHS, officials have the option of enforcing a five-yard penalty if the facemask is grasped but not twisted, turned or pulled. Under NCAA rules, no player other than the runner may continuously contact an opponent’s facemask, but the runner is restricted from the same sort of grasping, twisting and turning as in NFHS.


If there is to be a flag on this one, it’s because of the early contact and not because the defender is obscuring the receiver’s vision. The NFHS changed its pass interference rule in 2017 and faceguarding alone is not considered a foul. College football has had the rule in place for almost as long as it has allowed the forward pass.

“That’s not a foul! He didn’t grab the facemask!”

We’re assuming the player in the white uniform will give the opponent’s helmet a good yank in the next second or so. At any rate, the personal foul for such action is not restricted to the facemask. Under both codes, it is also illegal to twist, turn or pull the chinstrap or any helmet opening of an opponent. The NFHS rule adds the tooth and mouth protector attached to the facemask. In NFHS, it is a foul with a five-yard penalty to grasp but not twist, turn or pull those items.

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