Wednesday, December 28, 2011

First and Sin: "Non-Player" No-No's

Today’s lesson is on a rule that rarely comes into play in an NFL game, but gets a lot of air time when it does.  We’re talking about NFL Rule 13: Non-Player Conduct.
Rule 13 can be summed up pretty easily:  people on the sidelines who aren’t players, or players who aren’t currently on the field, can be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, costing their team yards and maybe even points. 

As you might imagine, especially if you’ve been to youth sporting events, many of the fouls you’ll see under Rule 13 will be defined as “bad behavior” by coaches and players on the bench.  However, there don't have to be bad intentions for a penalty to be enforced.  Here are some specifics:

·   With the exception of team trainers or other necessary support personnel, and their assistants, no one is allowed on the field during timeouts without the permission of the Referee.  Even coaches must stay on the sidelines; players have to come to them during a timeout.  A coach coming onto the field to argue with an official will cost his team 15 yards.

·   The field is surrounded by a six-foot deep white border.  The only people allowed in that border during play are the officials.  This is actually an important rule to protect the safety of officials, players, and team personnel.  Serious injuries can occur when players on the field run or an official running down the sideline collide with personnel standing on the sideline.  Since the players’ and officials’ eyes are on the action on the field, they are essentially blind to the environment off the field.  Enforcing this rule was a new point of emphasis in the year I was officiating youth and high school football; it was very unpopular with the coaches, but after a first warning, subsequent violations resulted in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.  Since the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty is attributed to the head coach, he risked being ejected if a second such penalty (a third sideline violation) was called.  This may seem extreme, especially since this seems like an innocent mistake.  However, violating the sideline border it isn’t always innocent.  Take the following incident from last year, for example:

The trip was committed by Jets strength coach Sal Alosi who, ironically, was also the team’s “get-back” coach, the person responsible for keeping sideline personnel a safe distance from the field.  Unfortunately, the field officials didn't see the trip, and there was no penalty on the play.  However, Alosi was suspended by the league for the rest of the 2010 season, including the playoffs, and fined $25,000.  Though he was slow to get off the field, the player tripped, Nolan Carroll*, was not injured.  Alosi resigned from the Jets in January, 2011.

·   In addition to the white border surrounding the entire field, coaches and other team personnel are prohibited from positioning themselves past the 32-yard lines. 

·   Article 7 of the rule prohibits non-players from committing any act with is “palpably unfair.”  This would include, for example, a player who is not involved in the currently play running onto the field to tackle an opponent.

·   Article 8 specifically prohibits any type of abuse directed toward officials by non-players.  Physically touching an official is always a no-no, but if it’s done by a coach or a player on the bench, it will almost certainly result in an ejection.

·   Since the officials’ jurisdiction begins as soon as the officials step onto the field in uniform, players and coaches need to mind their manners before the game as well.  Player altercations during pre-game warm-ups or other flagrant conduct before the game or during intermissions are subject to Rule 13 enforcement.
Such is the importance of this rule that the officials have wide discretion in the type of penalty they impose.  The minimum penalty will be 15 yards from the new spot of the ball (if the violation occurred after the play ended) or the previous spot (if the violation occurred while the play was continuing).  However, the Referee can decide to take the 15 yards from a different spot—perhaps where the foul occurred, or on the kickoff if the play resulted in a score.

In addition to yardage penalties, the Referee can deemed that a player (or coach) is disqualified from participating in the game (i.e., he’s ejected), or he can even negate a score or award the score, if that seems to be the fairest solution.  Obvious examples would be if the player with the ball is tripped by someone on the sideline (touchdown awarded) or if a player in pursuit of the ball carrier is tripped (touchdown negated).

So, if you ever find yourself on the sidelines during a football game, better mind your P’s and Q’s, or it may cost your team TD’s!

*Random factoid:  Nolan Carroll's mother, Jennifer, is the Lieutenant Governor of Florida!

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