The game of football has changed from three yards and a cloud of dust to the aerospace age. Defense means if you can get two stops in each half you have had a good day. Stops for the defense means make them punt, turn the ball over on downs or get a turnover.
High school coaches adopted the philosophy year ago when 7-on-7 tournaments were played in the summer months. It makes for a much more exciting game. It is an adjustment for any football fan over 40 years old.
There are still three areas that will determine the outcome of football or any other athletic contest: No. 1, the play of the players involved in the contest; No. 2, the coaching during the contest; and No. 3, the officials. Every coach and official will tell you that the game should be determined by the players who play the game. According to many, games are dictated by the coaches. That is only half true because players must execute the game plan on the field.
The officials have one job, and that is to make sure both teams stay within the rules of the game. If the coach or official of any game becomes the determining factor, something is wrong.
To make it clear I want to go on record as recognizing that officials are some of the greatest people involved at any level of athletics. They have a tremendously difficult job that too many people perceive to be an easy job. The job should never be underestimated, but just like players and coaches, the officials must realize that they are only one-third of any contest. For the officials to become the center of attention is a big problem.
I recently had the opportunity to cover a high school state semifinal game. Within days the Chiefs played the Rams in a Monday night game. In both games a key to each contest was based upon how the officials called the game.
Coaches and players must be able to adjust on the run, in order to meet the standards of the officials. But when any official or officiating crew takes over the game and becomes the show, it is a problem.
Some of my favorite people during my career in high school were the officials. To a man or woman, they used to tell me that a well officiated game is one that no one knows who officiated after the game.
It is harder the ever to officiate because of all the rule changes, particularly in football. The game is all about offense and safety of the players. I understand and agree with the safety part. But any type of contact seems to be an automatic penalty. Football is a physical and emotional game and it can be hard to make split second decisions.
After the Rockhurst-Blue Springs state semifinal game I had a discussion with an official who is also a longtime friend. He asked my opinion about how the game was called, and I shared with him that the officials became the “show” instead of the players on both teams. Twenty-two penalties were called. Thirteen of those penalties were major penalties at key times.
In the game between the Chiefs and Rams, 23 penalties were called for more than 200 yards. In both games, great athletes and coaches felt like the officials were played too big of a part in the outcome. The officials were not unfair. It just appeared they thought everyone came to see them officiate.
It was a mistake for the NFL to bring in individuals to form an all-star crew that does not normally work together. In the Blue Springs-Rockhurst game, the Missouri State High School Activities Association assigned crews from St. Louis who may or may not have officiated Class 6 games on a regular basis. In both cases the officials took away from two games that were played and coached well.
In every athletic contest players and coaches are evaluated on how they played and coached the game. The officials are also evaluated, but they can dominate a game if they forget their purpose. I have talked to three longtime officials who had seen both games discussed in this article and they agreed with my view.
Again, I have the highest respect for all officials, and I am sure they go into every contest wanting to do a fair and good job. If we do not get off officials’ backs, we will not have games to play because we will not have one-third of what makes up a contest. Officials, though, must understand that the players should be the deciding factor in a win or loss.
• My quote of the week comes from longtime high school official and good friend Phil Stompoly: “When I speak to officials at clinics, I tell all the young officials if you are 99.9 percent sure that a penalty should be called, you should not call the penalty unless you are 100 percent sure.” Officials are human beings and will make mistakes, but they must be steady and consistent.
– Tim Crone, a William Chrisman High School graduate, is a former activities director and coach for Blue Springs High School and is a host of a weekly radio show, “Off the Wall with Tim Crone,” on KCWJ (1030 AM) 6 p.m. every Monday. He writes a weekly column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.