Spirit-of-the-Law turned Letter-of-the-Law

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of working a game with Dr. Hinchey. While the game itself left little impression on me, there was a series of events that has kept that game in my mind for several years now. It was May 1st. I remember it distinctly because that was the date selected by our board to start enforcing the new rule regarding the requirement to have a line or shadow line through the center of any team or school emblem on the field, according to Rule 1-2-1. The ramification for not having a clearly marked center line is right there in bold, half way down the first page of rules: PENALTY: Failure to have a clearly marked center line that runs the entire width of the field is illegal procedure assessed against the home team.

This particular game had been rescheduled and relocated to a neutral site due to the fact that the home team was having their own field replaced or repaired. As we approached the field, I noticed that there was no stripe running through the logo in the center. I asked Dr. Hinchey what he was going to do about it. He calmly explained that he was going to do nothing, that it wasn’t right to penalize the ‘home’ team as this was not their ‘home field’ and therefore had no influence on getting it lined in accordance with the rules.

For two years I have had conflicting feelings about how the situation was handled. On the one hand, the interpretation at the time and place made absolute sense. In keeping with the ‘spirit-of-the-law’, why penalize a team that has no control over the situation? On the other hand, as an official, we’re not supposed to pick ad choose which rules we’re going to enforce. The ‘letter-of-the-law’ had been trumped by ‘situational ethics’, and that bothered me just a little, particularly in light of the emphasis brought to bear by our board leadership including Dr. Hinchey himself, less than a week prior!

Fast forward now to this morning. I had received the 2017 NFHS Rule Book in the mail the previous day (courtesy of AJS and all the good folks on the Board who make this stuff happen during the winter). I sat down with my Saturday morning coffee and started to read. When I reached Rule 2, everything about the game described above came back into focus. The words of 2-4-2 stood out: “When a contest is played at a neutral site, One team shall be designated as the home team. The sponsoring authority will assume all the responsibilities of the home team as outlined in the rules.” In essence, the home team is exonerated from an insufficiently marked field because of the fact that is was NOT THEIRS. So we DID do it right after all! 

So what’s the point of all this? To re-hash rules 1-2-1 and 2-4-2 regarding who is responsible for getting a stripe down the middle of a team logo at the center of the field? Absolutely not, even though I’m now never going to penalize the home team on a neutral field for field marking violations.

I’m starting my tenth year as an official and hope to continue for some time to come. I have made it a habit to read the rule book each and every season, even though little changes from year to year. By doing so I pick up small nuances such as this that would otherwise get missed. Field experience is a great teacher, and book knowledge is absolutely required. But it’s the mix of the two, applying rules on the field AND recalling game situations as you read those rules that help make you a better official.



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