Football referees, line judges and the gift of ubiquity

Can someone tell me why it is that the referee or a line judge is always on the spot where a pass lands, be it five yards or fifty yards from the line of scrimmage? How do they know where to position themselves? Many players could outrun these officials by a mile, so what gives?!

If it’s an NFL game there are seven officials on the field. The referee stays in the offensive backfield and the umpire stays in the defensive backfield. There are two officials on each side of the line to watch for infractions there.

That leaves three officials to follow the receivers going downfield. So, it’s not hard for them to follow a receiver. Those other three officials are already standing 10-20 yards in front of the line of scrimmage.

They usually aren’t as close to the play as often as you think. But they try their best.

Also, unless they’re going deep, the receivers are probably running routes with turns and jukes, so it’s often not really a foot race at all.

The officials have the most problems when a fast running back breaks away with lots of field in front of him. You can definitely notice the refs struggling to keep up in these situations, even with their head starts. But, they again get some help if the runner is running at an angle (as is often the case) because all the refs need to do is get to the same yard line so they can judge where to spot the ball or whether a touchdown was made. So, they just run straight down the field (often along the sidelines to stay out of the way) instead of trying to chase the ball carrier.

BobT is no big surprise, but where were you, Pasta, when football issues were broached last? You seem to have a certain fondness for the game and your input would certainly have been welcomed. Don’t be shy: I, myself, often contribute on topics I know next to nothing about:D.