In the game of football a sideline warning occurs when the officials determine that the coaching staff or players are not staying far enough away from the field during a live play.
Here is the NCAA’s official statement on sideline warnings:
An important point of emphasis for the rules committee and the officials is keeping the sidelines clean. This means that players and coaches are not allowed in the restricted area—the space between the sidelines and the coaches’ box and team area.
For a long time, the first infraction led to a sideline warning, with no yardage penalty. After a few years the rule was changed to assess a five-yard penalty for the first offense. Now, we are returning to the warning for the first infraction. No yardage penalty will result until the second offense.
Since this is a just warning to the team it is not going to result in a penalty. As you can see in the quote above at one point in college football the sideline warning was eliminated and teams would earn themselves a five-yard penalty right off the bat.
But in recent years the NCAA went back to the old ruling of giving teams a one sideline warning before assessing penalties.
Why Are Sideline Warnings Given
Now that you understand what a sideline warning is you may be wondering why officials are so particular about keeping the sidelines clear. After all, you do not often see this called in sports like soccer or basketball.
Affecting The Play
One of the main reasons that sideline warnings are given in football is so that the play on the field is not affected. The main area the officials want to keep clear is the white area between the sideline and the player’s bench.
Having players this close to the sideline can affect the play in several ways. First off they can directly make contact with a play. In some plays such as punts, it is not uncommon for a player to travel out of bounds during the play.
On these occasions, players and coaches need to be sure to stay out of the way so they do not interrupt the play.
Additionally standing close to the sideline can also affect a player’s ability to run near the sideline. You do not have to look any further than Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s sideline incident to see this in practice.
Obstructing An Official
Another reason sideline warnings are given out in football is so that players do not obstruct the official’s ability to call the play.
On each sideline, there will be an official that stands right around the boundary. When marking a players progress or moving with the play these officials need a portion of the sideline clear.
If players stand in this area of the sideline the official will not be able to move freely to get a good look at the play.
For this reason, officials make sure that the sideline stays clear so that they can do their job effectively.
The other reason that coaches and players need to leave space on the sideline is for player safety.
If you watch football often you know how frequently players will be tackled out of bounds in a game. Having a large crowd of players right near the sideline can be dangerous for the players on and off the field.
By keeping the area close to the sideline clear players are more likely to avoid these collisions when players travel out of bounds.