Duties of Football Officials

The Difference Between Football Officials, Referees and Umpires

Referee signaling touchdown at football match, rear view
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Football officials enforce the rules of the game and, as such, are usually the people who draw the most ire from coaches, players and fans. Without these rule keepers monitoring the progress of a football game, the game might not progress with a set structure.

There are seven officials in football and they each have very important roles. Officials keep the game rolling along by monitoring the game clock and play clock.

They also call a penalty when a rule is broken, record all rule infractions and make sure the athletes do not unnecessarily hurt each other. 

Officials are usually referred to by the general term of referees, but actually, there is only one referee on the field during a game. Each official has his own title and assigned responsibilities: referee, umpire, head linesman, line judge, back judge, field judge and side judge. A referee is the only official wearing a white hat, all other officials wear black hats.

Referee

The referee is the lead official that has control of the game and is generally the final authority in all decisions. 

It is the role of the referee to announce all penalties. The referee explains penalties to the offending team's captain and coach and says which player is responsible for the penalty. The referee is positioned in the backfield, approximately 10 yards behind the quarterback before the start of the play.

The referee monitors illegal hits on the quarterback, watches for illegal blocks near the quarterback and determines if the yardage chains are needed on the field for a measurement.

Umpire

The umpire is the official that lines up approximately five yards off the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball.

 

The umpire assists the referee on decisions involving possession of the ball. The umpire monitors the legality of play on the line of scrimmage with a special emphasis on offensive holding and illegal linemen down field. The umpire makes sure that the offense has no more than 11 players on the field and checks the legality of player's equipment. The umpire records all scores, timeouts, records the winner of the coin toss and wipes the ball dry between plays during inclement weather.

Head Linesman

The head linesman is the official on the sideline that straddles the line of scrimmage looking for scrimmage violations like offsides or encroachment and penalties like illegal motion, illegal shifts, illegal use of hands and illegal men downfield.

The head linesman rules on all out-of-bounds plays along the sideline where positioned. The head linesman keeps tabs on the chain crew and marks the chain to a yard marker on the field as a reference point for a measurement on the field. Also, the head linesman keeps track of all eligible receivers and marks the forward progress of the ball.

Line Judge

The line judge is the official who lines up on the opposite side of the field from the head linesman.

The line judge assists the head linesman on making calls of illegal motion, illegal shifts, offsides or encroachment. The line judge assists the umpire with illegal use of the hands and holding calls and assists the referee on false start calls.

The line judge makes sure the quarterback does not cross the line of scrimmage before throwing the ball, watches for offensive lineman going downfield too early on punts, supervises the timing of the game and supervises substitutions by the team on the side of the field where positioned.

Back Judge

The back judge is the official who sets up 20 yards deep in the defensive backfield on the wide receiver side of the field. One of the roles of the back judge is to make sure the defensive team has no more than 11 players on the field. The back judge watches all eligible receivers on the wide receiver side of the field.

The back judge is responsible for monitoring the area between the umpire and the field judge. The back judge rules on the legality of catches and pass interference penalties and has the final say regarding the legality of kicks during kickoffs. During field goals, the back judge is positioned under the goalpost and rules whether the field goal attempt was successful.

Field Judge

The field judge is the official that lines up 25 yards deep in the defensive backfield on the tight end side of the field. The field judge is responsible for keeping track of the play clock and calling a delay of game if the clock expires. Like the back judge, the field judge makes sure the defensive team has no more than 11 players on the field. The field judge rules on plays that cross the defense's goal line, rules on the legality of catches and pass interference penalties and monitors all eligible receivers on the tight end side of the field. Also, if a play goes out of bounds on the tight end side of the field, the field judge marks the spot.

Side Judge

The side judge is the official positioned 20 yards deep in the defensive backfield near the same sideline as the head linesman. Side judge duties are essentially the same as the back judge. The side judge makes sure the defensive team has no more than 11 players on the field and watches all eligible receivers from that side of the field. The side judge is responsible for monitoring the area between the umpire and the field judge, assists on calling the legality of kicks during kickoffs and rules on the legality of catches and pass interference penalties.