Q&A: Why are football players' numbers called out on penalty calls?

(Jack Eberhard/JacksActionShots)

(Jack Eberhard/JacksActionShots)

A hot topic in the aftermath of football's Zero Week was the fact that referees are now identifying players by their numbers on penalty calls. We caught up with CHSAA assistant commissioner Tom Robinson, who oversees officials, for an explanation.

First and foremost: the new addition is not a new rule, but instead a mechanic. Mechanics are designed to help relay information to the players, coaches and crowd. And because of that, "It's not one of those where you have to be in 100 percent compliance with it as you would with a rule book," Robinson said.

The new mechanic should help reduce instances where coaches are trying to figure out who a penalty was called on. But don't expect it to be called in every stadium across the state — at least not right away.

"That's going to be the learning curve for them in terms of getting the number," Robinson said. "So, probably you're not going to get (the numbers) all the time, it's going to be an afterthought until we get more experience doing it."

Here's a Q & A on the new mechanic with Robinson, who was a college football official for 25 years, including the last 12 as referee of his crew.

Can you take us through the basis of it and where it originated?

"I guess it got its roots not through this office (CHSAA) but through some other conversations I was having with officials in general. Really, it was from that whole topic of, 'Are officials accountable?' So we were just trying to come up with some different ways with all of our (officials) associations to do some things a little differently and to add to what we're doing.

"That was a conversation I had in June, and even before. And so as the CFOA was getting ready for their season, that was one of the suggestions: Could we, instead of having a bunch of coaches asking, 'Well, who was (the penalty) on?' ... have a mechanic where we relay the number of a fouling player (to the coach)? But a lot of times, it depends on how close you are ... and there's always a delay (in getting that information to the coach). So the question was, why don't we alleviate the pressure around getting that number (to the coach) by just calling that number out right away when they signal the penalty?"

Are there any other states doing this?

"We're probably one of a handful of states."

Have you gotten any feedback from officials with it?

"I have not seen via email one thing about announcing the numbers. Not since Zero Week, which is when it started. We went out to football clinics and some of the officials were not happy about it. It's probably one of a few. Others may have had similar feelings, because, if you're old school, it's just the way we've done it (to not call numbers) all the time. And I'm old school, too, but I always thought it would be helpful (to call numbers out), because our mechanics are designed to be a guide for people in the stands who don't know what's going on: the signals, signaling touchdown, all of that is important to the game, and this is just one more thing.

"I would say this: In every other sport, we identify the fouling player. ... (In basketball) the announcer announces the fouling player, it goes up on a lot of scoreboards. I think (not calling numbers) was just a tradition that football had."