It takes a special kind of man to go out every Friday night and officiate football games. Win or lose, they will be the subject of taunts, insults and sometimes even objects tossed onto the field. What makes them do it year in and year out? Is it the love of the game? It sure isn’t about the paltry sum they get paid for doing the games.
Brownwood’s Cliff Ross is entering his 23rd season refereeing games from the six-man level all the way to the college.
“We definitely do it for the love of the game,” Ross said. “I still get butterflies every time I walk onto that field. When I don’t, I reckon it’ll be time to hang it up.”
In football, NFL officials are the only referees with contracts, the collegiate and high school referees get paid for the games they officiate. Most high school referees have full time day jobs in addition to volunteering their time at referring clinics and training.
Football officiating has historically been an all-male endeavor. There have been a handful of women officiating Division I football and a couple in the United Football League in 2009. During the NFL referee strike of 2012, there was one female referee for a game, Shannon Eastin.
For Ross, the biggest challenge to officiating a game is mastering the new rulebook that gets handed down each year by the University Interscholastic League.
“Every year they make changes, and we have to have meetings to go over the changes and how we are going to implement them,” Ross said.
Ross has refereed at the collegiate level as well, and sees a big difference between the two. “The high school players play for the love of the game. They always give their best effort.”
Ross has had a few close calls over the years while officiating games. “One year, we had to be escorted off the field, tensions were high. By the same token, I’ve had fans come up to me and thanking me for what we do,” Ross said. Once Ross told an unruly fan to walk a day in his shoes and see how they liked it. “They declined,” Ross said.
Here’s how the lineup of referees is broken down in a football game:
Referee: Responsible for the general supervision of the game and has the final authority on all rulings. Sometimes referred to as head referee or crew chief.
Umpire: Stands behind the defensive line and linebackers observing the blocks by the offensive line and defenders trying to shake off the blocks. Prior to the snap, he counts all offensive players.
Head Linesman: Stands on the line looking for offsides, encroachment and other fouls before the snap. During passing plays, he watches when the receivers go out of bounds. He marks the forward progress of the ball and is in charge of the chain crew.
Field Judge: Works downfield behind the defensive secondary on the same sideline as the line judge. Makes the decisions on the sidelines such as pass interference, illegal blocks downfield and incomplete passes.
Side Judge: Works downfield behind the defensive secondary on the same sideline as the head linesman. During field goal kicks, he acts as a second umpire. He rules on pass interference.
Back Judge: Rules on delay of game.
Ross said they are always looking for new referees with a love of the game. There are no prerequisites, per se, just a solid knowledge of football. For more information on becoming a referee, contact Ross at (325) 998-1011.