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Understanding College Football Officiating - Why Don't They Call Holding?

It happens on every play, right? Not exactly.

This is the last part of a four-part series on college football officiating. So far, we've discovered that it takes years to become a FCS-level official, working your way up through the system. We've defined the different officiating positions, their responsibilities and the players they watch throughout a play.

In this article, we discuss why the officials call what they call. You're wondering why they don't call holding, right?

Read on....

First of all, understand that officials are graded after every game. I'm not going to go into the grading system, but it's important to understand that if an official makes a call, there'd darn well better be a foul. Basically, if you miss a call, it's not nearly as big a downgrade than if you throw a flag and there's nothing there.

Second, a lot of emphasis is placed upon point of attack. As I've explained, the referee and umpire are going to watch the play flow. They're not going to worry about the opposite side. If they see something on the opposite side, for example, a hold, they will tell a player that it would have been a hold had it been in the point of attack as a warning or to instruct the player. This technique is called preventive officiating and by doing this the player is aware that the officials are watching him closely.

Third, calls have a lot to do with advantage and disadvantage, i.e., if a player gets an advantage on another player because of an illegal move (a hold, for example), then it's a foul. If they do not, it's not a foul. This will become more apparent in our section on holding.


Holding is easily the most controversial call in football. Fans see holding on every play, then wonder why the referees don't call it. If you take into account the point of attack, and the concepts of advantages and disadvantages, it's easier to understand.

One other important item on holding. Officials realize that offensive linemen hold defenders, but it's the defenders responsibility to show the hold. In other words, it's not enough for the defender to stand there being held. The defender must make an attempt to move away from his blocker, to go after the ball, fight off the block, and demonstrate that the offensive player is getting an advantage.

There are six different types of offensive holding.

  • Tackling a player - self-explanatory.

  • Takedown - the best example is an offensive lineman who has a defensive lineman at the shoulders, then does a body twist to take the defender to the ground or throw him off balance.

  • Pullover - The best example is that of a defensive bull rush which knocks the offensive player down and the offensive lineman pulls defensive down on top of him.

  • Hook and Restrict - the offensive player gets beat to the outside and sticks his arm out or uses an arm bar to restrict a defensive player.

  • Grab and Restrict - self-explanatory

  • Jerk and Restrict - instead of moving feet, pulling the defender around with the hands.

Another key to remember - holding is usually not called on double teams. The exception is when a defender beats a double team and gets held. Usually these are hook and restrict or grab and restrict holds.

Pass Interference

Pass interference is heavily dependent upon the advantage/disadvantage concept. One key that most college fans don't understand is that you're allowed to face guard as long as you don't make contact. If during face guarding the defender bumps a receiver, then it's pass interference.

The bottom line on pass interference - If both players are going for the ball, you have to let them play. Remember the emphasis about officials not making a call when there's not a foul, and again, this is easier to understand.

On Being A Ref

After discussions with my friend the official, I can't imagine why anyone would want to do it. I specifically asked about dealing with crowds and coaches. He explained that his philosophy is you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't, and that he has six other teammates on the field (other members of the crew) and no else.

As an official you have to be confident in your knowledge of the rules and the philosophies which coincide with them. You treat the player and coaches with the utmost respect because they are the ones that determine the game.

He specifically mentioned that he does not interact with coaches (unless the head coach has a question or he is reporting penalty information), in other words, he doesn't try to be buddy buddy with them. The best games are the ones where no one notices the officials.


If you have questions about officiating, please feel free to ask them in the comments section.