Ask Sam Farmer: Why spot the ball on the hash marks instead of the direct middle of the field?

Ask Sam Farmer: Why spot the ball on the hash marks instead of the direct middle of the field?
Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer hands the ball off to running back Ka’Deem Carey during the first quarter of a game against the Packers on Oct. 20.
(Dylan Buell / Getty Images)

Have a question about the NFL? Ask Times NFL writer Sam Farmer, and he will answer as many as he can online and in the Sunday editions of the newspaper throughout the season. Email questions to:

Why are there hash marks on the right and left side of the field where the ball is spotted for each down. Why not just use the middle of the field always?

Matt Shupper, La Cañada Flintridge

Farmer: First, some basics. The ball is always spotted either on or inside the parallel hash marks that run the length of the field. Over the years, in the interest of encouraging scoring and enhancing the passing game, the NFL has gradually pushed the hash marks farther from the sidelines and closer to the middle of the field. (They’re wider apart in college, and wider still in high school.) That gives an offense the ability to run plays both to the right and left, without being overly confined by the closest sideline. As you’ve noted, the ball isn’t always spotted in the exact middle of the field. If the previous play ends between the hash marks, the ball is spotted where that play ended. If the play ends outside the hash marks, the ball is spotted about 1½ yards inside the nearest hash. 


Now, to your question, and why the ball isn’t placed in the precise middle of the hash marks on every snap. Retired referee Mike Carey said there’s good reason for that. 

“The philosophy is, why give the offense a complete advantage?” Carey said. “If the defense is able to force an offense to a side of the field where it feels it has a defensive advantage, they should get the benefit of that ball placement. The offense shouldn’t get the ball exactly between the hash marks on every snap, no matter what. It increases the strategy of the game. If you’re in different positions on the field laterally, you’ve got to come up with game plans and personnel to be able to execute plays in that area.”

The same hash mark rules apply on field goals, but on extra points it’s the kicker’s choice, and he can put the ball anywhere he wants between the hashes. When a team kicks off, it can place the ball anywhere it wants between the hashes. Likewise, if there’s a touchback, the offense can choose to snap it anywhere between the hashes. 



Do replay officials use the network TV cameras to review plays or does the league have its own?

Chuck Moore, Glendale

Farmer: Officials have access to whatever footage the network has shot, but not to any type of league or in-house camera angles. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, say the home club were responsible for providing the supplemental camera angles. Would that team want to provide an angle that, say, proved it fumbled? Or bury an angle proving the visitors scored? And also, in the interest of transparency, the NFL doesn’t want officials making decisions based on footage the home audience hasn’t seen. That too could lead to problems. Let everyone see it for themselves, then let the officials make the call.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer

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