What is a Football Referee?

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  • Written By: Cassie L. Damewood
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 10 August 2019
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A football referee is in charge of enforcing the rules of a football game. She also supervises the other officials in their interpretation of the rules and has the power to overrule any of their calls with which she disagrees. She normally officiates for college or professional football teams, but may also preside over games in which children and teenagers participate. What distinguishes her from the less powerful officials is the white cap she wears in contrast to the black caps worn by the others.

Although she is most visible during the course of play, a football referee has many other responsibilities. Before the game begins, she examines the field to ensure it is free of holes or debris that may compromise the safety of the players. She is typically expected to check the goalposts for stability and make sure the yard markers on the field are accurate and clearly marked.

As the other officials arrive, she commonly asks them to verify their stopwatches are synchronized and in proper working order. The referee usually has everyone check their headsets and other electronic equipment to ascertain communications are clear and complete. Right before the game begins, she confirms any player changes or substitutions with the coaches or team managers. She also is normally the person in charge of the coin toss that determines which team gets the ball first.


Once the game is underway, a football referee is normally required to run the entire field as the defense and offense face off and attempt to score. As the quarterback prepares to pass the football, she is typically required to stand approximately ten yards behind the line of scrimmage. She positions herself to the right or left of the quarterback, depending on which arm he uses to throw the ball.

As the play develops, the referee is generally required to closely watch both the offensive and defensive players to make sure they do not break any rules. If they do, the referee or one of the other officials who observes the infraction throws a yellow flag in the vicinity of where the rule was broken and announces the penalty to the teams and the fans. She is also commonly the official who decides where the ball is placed on the field after a fumble occurs.

On kicking plays, a football referee concentrates on the kicker and calls a penalty if any player hits or runs into the player in an unacceptable manner. She also confirms where the ball goes out of bounds or where it ends up at the end of a running play. A football referee is usually the person who announces the end of each period of play.

A high school diploma or equivalent is generally required to be a football referee. Some referees begin by volunteering to officiate local community leagues. To referee at higher levels, such as high school, college and professional levels, a candidate may have to pass an exam or acquire a certification. Some positions may even require some college work or a degree. An in-depth knowledge of the game as well as its rules and regulations is essential. Excellent vision, healthy reflexes and a sense of fairness are highly desirable attributes for a football referee as well.



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