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A football official is responsible for making sure that the game is played fairly and according to the rules. He or she gets close to the action on every play to look for rules violations and determine where the ball should be placed for the next down. In addition, a team of referees work together to track game and play clocks, keep score, and inform teams and fans about calls. Regardless of the level of play, a football official needs to be attentive, objective, and confident at all times to maintain authority and ensure fair play.
In junior league and high school games, a team of five officials is usually on the field. College, amateur, and professional games typically have seven officials. The team is headed by the referee, who has the final say over all decisions. The umpire stays in the middle of the field just behind the defense, and the back, side, and field judges are stationed deeper in the defensive backfield. The line judge and head linesman stand opposite each other along the line of scrimmage to place the ball after plays, measure first downs, and call offsides and holding penalties.
Objectivity is one the most important qualities for a football official to possess. Favoring one side or player is not only unfair to the other team, but it is also disrespectful to the fans and to the sport. Most officials take their jobs very seriously, so they are able to remain completely unbiased. Even so, it is common for leagues to not allow referees to call games in their home towns or states to eliminate the chance of playing favorites. Officials in collegiate, adult amateur, and professional leagues often travel across wide regions during football season.
There is so much action going on during a football game that it is possible for a referee to miss a violation or make a bad call. With the exception of instant replay challenges in some professional leagues, there is really nothing players, coaches, or fans can do to overturn a decision once it has been made. A good football official must be able to take criticisms and jeers in stride and maintain his or her composure throughout the game.
Most football officials begin their careers as youth league or high school referees. Many community and regional organizations exist that can help a new official learn all about the responsibilities of the job and find opportunities in his or her area. In order to move to the collegiate or professional level of play, a football official generally needs to gain several years of experience and build a good reputation. Some national college systems and private organizations offer licensure for officials who complete accredited training camps.
One thing that is somewhat surprising is how many people get into officiating and turn that into a high profile gig in the National Football League (NFL). Some of these cats just like football and volunteer to officiate a few local games -- high school, junior high and even lower. As they gain experience, you may see them rise in the ranks and eventually wind up in the NFL.
That is a surprising process to watch, but the reality is that even NFL officials generally treat it as a part time job rather than a career. Most people focus on a career rather than part time employment, and that means there's room available for others to get into pro officiating.