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Ball Handling 101


       In an ideal situation there are at least four footballs available and four ball boys, two on each sideline.  It also makes it simpler if there is a league- or state association- mandated ball that is used by both teams.  If each team has its own football, the following procedure will be modified so that a particular teams ball always goes out and comes in from its own sideline unless there is a ball boy for each team on each sideline.  If the field is wet, the ball may have to be changed more often than described.  Wet ball procedures should include a towel (no size restriction) for the umpire.


       The ball should be changed whenever it becomes dead outside the top of the numbers (nine yard marks) or after any change of possession.  If the ball becomes dead in the field of play, the old ball is left in places until the new ball is properly positioned at the succeeding spot.  The new ball is brought in by the deep official on that sideline (six official crew) or by the back judge (five or seven official crew) and thrown directly to the umpire, who should be mobile enough to range between the tops of the numbers.  Ball boys should be instructed to stay off the field to decrease the chance theyll run on at an inappropriate time.


       Balls that become dead outside the field of play should be left there for the ball boys to retrieve.  Nor only is it unnecessary for an official to chase after the ball, it prevents the official from dead-ball officiating.


       When the ball becomes dead between the tops of the numbers, the umpire (in most cases) will be able to directly retrieve the ball himself.  On incomplete passes, a deep official must assist.  When the ball is relayed between officials, it should always be thorn underhanded so that it can be caught waist high.  Most officials cannon accurately throw the ball more than 10-15 yards.  It takes more time to run 10 yards then throw the ball 10 yards than it does to just throw a 20 yard pass, but the chance that the 20 yard pass goes awry is much greater.


       Before tossing the ball, the official should ensure players returning to their side of the line will not get in the way.  If necessary the official should hesitate until the players clear the area or move a couple of steps to find a clear path.  Never try to thread the needle between players or try to throw over their heads.  Both officials and players have on occasion been hit by errant tosses. If the ball ends up on the turf, it could be accidentally kicked, wasting time. 


       When a team employs hurry up offense, the umpire must range farther than normal to retrieve the ball.  All other officials must be in position to observe the snap when the ball is spotted.  That avoids creating the appearance the officials are holding up the game.


       In summary, ball handling has nothing to do with how accurately the game is called, but will go a long way to enhance crew credibility and can appreciably reduce down time between plays.



Thanks to George Demetriou  published in Referee Magazine Aug. 2003