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My post last week on calling penalties fairly generated some excellent questions on consistency in officiating from coaches, players, fans, and officials across multiple sports. Should officials pass on calls based on the score in a blowout game? Why aren’t the same penalties called from one week to the next?

These are valid questions. Before I answer them, I’ll start with a pregame tip I picked up way back at the 2010 US Lacrosse Convention: the “ROUC.”

I’ve used the ROUC at the end of every pregame meeting for the past four years whenever I was the assigned referee. Here’s how it goes:

“Whatever happens in the game, we are going to catch the ROUGH, the OBVIOUS, the UNNECESSARY, and the CHEAP.”

Let’s face it, few people are going to lose sleep over our crew missing an offside call during a scrum near midline, but a lot of people are going to rightfully lose their cool if we miss a shooter getting cross-checked in the side of the head well after the ball is shot. With the ROUC in mind, let’s dig into these questions.

Should officials pass on calls based on the score in a blowout game?

The short answer (that just about everyone but officials expects) is “no.”

The longer answer is that it’s sometimes (but not always) smart to pass on non-safety related and borderline technical violations when the score is significantly lopsided at lower levels of play.

I’ve run into this many times with youth coaches who are winning by double-digit goals, and ask why I didn’t call the losing team for offside when one of their defenseman tapped the midline with his big toe. My reply: “Coach, it had no impact on the play and your goalkeeper hasn’t seen a shot all game.” In other words, the violation was not “ROUC.”

There is a reason the NFHS and youth rules specify running time in games that reach a certain goal differential. The longer a blowout game goes on, the greater the chance that something bad can happen, so we keep the game moving where we can and when appropriate.

Let me be clear: While it may be permissible to ignore a borderline technical in a blowout game, it is never okay to pass on safety-related personal fouls.

I’ve heard from several more coaches that some officials explained why a slash call against the losing team wasn’t made because “your team is winning, so stop complaining.” This logic escapes me.

Nowhere in the rulebook does it state that the losing team is permitted to slash after X number of goals is scored on them. Not making that safety call and then making a statement like the above doesn’t reflect well on your fellow officials. You also give the coach a legitimate complaint to your assignor. The “ROUC” stands in every game—be it youth, high school, or college.

Why aren’t the same penalties being called from one week to the next?

“Why did you call that a push when it wasn’t a push in the last game? Why didn’t you call that an illegal body check when the refs last week flagged the same contact? It’s all so inconsistent!”

I can understand this exasperation, especially from teams in areas where the game is growing more rapidly than the base of experienced officials. Yet even with experienced officials, there will be inconsistency from game to game, simply because there are different officiating crews and different teams. A more reasonable expectation is that the calls made on one side of the field are the same on the other side from the first whistle to the final horn.

If a slash is called thirty seconds into the first quarter, then you should reasonably expect that the same contact would be flagged with thirty seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. However, if you go into a game expecting the crew to make calls based on the contact from a game last week, which the crew did not see, then you will likely be disappointed in the officiating.

With two comparably-skilled teams, you should have a good handle on what will and won’t be called after the first four or five minutes of play. So to the officials out there reading this, remember that no one will really care if we miss something insignificant, and that’s why the focus should be catching the “ROUC” in every game.

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