Football season coming

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I have almost run out of things to say about sports other than football. Thanks to old friend Andy Pressgrove, I am still able to glean interesting tidbits about the evolution of college football rules. The book, “Anatomy of a Game” by Davy Nelson, follows the changes (and the reasons for those changes) from the earliest days of college football in the 1860s through 1989.

College and high school teams will crank up practice in two or three weeks, so shortly thereafter the newspapers will be publishing their preview sections.

Meanwhile baseball and other warm-weather sports continue. After such a dry spring, rain seems to have put a damper on youth baseball playoffs. I do not know if the Miss-Lou 18-year old Babe Ruth team has made it deeper into the playoffs. The last thing I saw in the online edition of The Natchez Democrat was that those boys won last Sunday morning. Rain generally puts a similar damper on golf, but that is the norm for the upcoming British Open.

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Though my dad made me learn the rules of golf before he would let me play the game alone (many, many years ago) I did not retain more than a general knowledge of those rules. They, like all sports, see rule changes almost every year. When I began playing golf, World War II was in full swing and every course played by winter rules. That allowed you to move your ball in the fairway, and to clean your ball after you reached the green. In earlier days, if your ball had a blob of dirt on it, you had to putt it that way. Also, the old stymie rule was around then, which meant if your opponent’s ball was in your line on the green, you had to either go around it or over it. If you ever watch the old “Shell World Series of Golf” shows, you will notice that the professionals never marked their ball on the green unless they were in a fellow player’s line.

In my football officiating career, I was sometimes known as a “rules man.” I could seldom quote the exact rule number or wording, but I did always have a solid feel for the game and how it was supposed to be played. I have always felt that judgment and common sense are as important a part of officiating as a detailed knowledge of the rules. I occasionally heard of referees (none in the Southeastern Conference) who required the officials in their games to report fouls or violations by rule, section, article and paragraph number rather that by the name of the violation. In other words, the official who had called an encroachment against the defense would have to come to the referee and say, “I have a defensive violation of Rule 7, Section 1, Article 2, paragraph a, line 2.” The best college referee I ever officiated with was Jimmy Harper. If I had ever gone to Jimmy and said something like that, he would have said, “Graning, speak English.”

I never knew an official to get canned over an occasional misinterpretation or misapplication of a rule, but many have vanished because of a lack of judgement or good old common sense.

And, That’s Official

Al Graning writes a weekly sports column. He can be reached by e-mail at