If you can call holding on every play, you are doing it wrong

By Bill LeMonnier | Posted 5/5/2016

I can’t count the number of times people tell me there’s holding on every play.

My response to them is simple: “Maybe, but that doesn’t mean there can be a penalty for holding thrown on every play.”

As an official, it’s your responsibility to differentiate the difference. Just because an offensive player reached out and grabbed somebody doesn’t make it holding.

When determining whether to reach for the flag, as yourself these two questions:

  • Was there an advantage gained by the offending team?
  • Was there a disadvantage suffered by the offended player?

Once you can answer yes to either question, does the play fit into one of the following buckets:

  • Grab and restrict. When a player takes hold of a would-be tackler and prevents him from advancing toward the ball-carrier. Call it near the point of attack, not if it happens 15 yards away and has no impact on the play.
  • Grab and turn. When a player takes hold of a would-be tackler and spins him away from the play. Again, proximity to the point of attack is a component.
  • Takedown/tackle. The point of attack is not critical here. A takedown to the ground needs to be called anywhere on the field.

Normally, the person being held will make it easy and prove it’s holding as he attempts to get away. They end up looking like they are running in quicksand for a few steps or you can clearly see the shirt pull.

And especially true at the youth level, if someone gets held but just gives up on the play with no effort to get away – even right at the center of the play – it’s not a foul.

That’s dancing, not holding. 

USA Football Rules Editor Bill LeMonnier is a former college referee who currently serves as an ESPN NCAA rules analyst. Click here to ask Bill a question. Make sure to put “Ask the Official” in the subject line.