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College Football/fair catch call

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Question
if a returner waves his arms in front of him because a punt is short and telling his team to stay clear of ball,   can he then pick up ball after it hits ground in front and it rolls or is this a violation of fair catch rule??    NU/Mich St last Saturday night for example

Answer
By rule, any "waving" motion during a kick is either a valid or invalid fair catch signal.  A valid signal is extending one hand clearly above the head and waving that hand from side to side more than once. An invalid signal is ANY waving signal other than the valid signal explained above.  

If a player gives a valid fair catch signal, the ball becomes dead where caught, and the returner is protected from being blocked or tackled in return for giving up his right to advance the ball.  If the returner advances more than two steps (within reason), it is a penalty for delay of game.  

If a player gives an invalid fair catch signal, it is not a "fair catch."  However, by rule, the ball is dead where caught or recovered.  Because it is not a fair catch, the player is not protected from being contacted (unless a personal foul, or late hit after the officials blow the play dead).  If the returner advances the ball after the invalid fair catch signal, it is to be a delay of game.  Of course, there is common sense there.  If the player doesn't know, and advances but stops when he hears the whistle, he will generally not be penalized.  

The reasoning here is simple.  The rules do not allow the players to manipulate safety rules to unfairly gain an advantage.  By waving your arms, you are signaling to your teammates to stay away from the ball, and are signaling to the kicking team that you are not returning it.  In fact, Pierson-El explained very clearly why the rule is there.  "It actually worked and fooled one defender and it took a bounce.  I had what I wanted."  You can't abuse the rules to "fool" the defenders into thinking you are protected from being contacted.  Similarly, the rules provide that "simulating" taking a knee is the same as taking a knee, and is to be blown dead.

So, it was properly called.

Thanks!

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William Robers

Expertise

I can answer rules questions and officiating questions (including training, mechanics, and general questions).

Experience

College Football Official since 2005; assist in training newer officials.

Organizations
Big Sky Conference Officials Association Sports Lawyers Association Rotary International

Education/Credentials
Law Degree from University of Minnesota Law School, 2001 MBA from Carlson School of Management at the U. of Minnesota, 2001 B.S. in Business Administration from Marquette University, 1997

Awards and Honors
Post-Season official in 2012 and 2013.

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