The main duty of a referee is to watch over the game and enforce fair play. Referees have a right to sanction players with yellow or red cards, stop or terminate the game due to risk factors, and assess fouls and penalties. Referees are also in charge of keeping time and providing a game report to league officials. The black string football referees wear is a specially designed wristband that is used to remind officials of the current down. It has an elastic loop attached to it that is wrapped around the fingers.
Usually, officials put the loop around their index finger at the first down, the middle finger at the second down, and so on. Instead of the custom designed indicator, some officials use two thick rubber bands tied together as a down indicator, one rubber band is used as the wristband, and the other is looped over the fingers. Some officials, especially umpires, may also use a second indicator to keep track of where the ball is placed between the hash marks before the play (the right hash marks, the left ones, or at the midpoint, between the right and the left). This is important when the ball is retrieved after an incomplete pass or a foul.
Once the play is completed with no fouls, the string gets switched to the next finger. But there is another use for it. Umpires and center judges, who are responsible for spotting the ball before each play, use it to remember the lateral position of the ball on the field. The center judge and umpire will wear two down indicators, one for the down and one for the lateral position of the ball. Recently, certain officials have started wearing specialized indicators that have letters or symbols on them to represent clock status, as well as representing the down.
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