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It's In The Rules

5:19 PM, Aug 13, 2012   |    comments
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Another season of high school football is drawing near and along with that some rules changes and clarifications have been made. Each year the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Football Rules Committee reviews suggestions for changes to the rules code. While doing that, its primary focus is to maintain the highest level of player safety when deciding to make any change in the playing rules. This year is NO exception.

The one change that is causing the largest discussion deals with the helmet. If at anytime a player's helmet comes off, at the end of the play that player must be removed for one down. This is similar to the injured player rule. The proper fitting of the helmet and having it secured with a properly adjusted chin strap with 4 attachment points securely fastened - along with safety - is the reason for this change. The only time that this rule will not be enforced is when a direct illegal act by the opponent is the reason the helmet became dislodged. If no foul is called, the player must be removed. To go along with this rule change, a major point of emphasis is contact both to and with the helmet, and proper helmet fitting. Any initiation of contact with the helmet is a foul and MUST be called. Blows to the head by a defender, initiating contact to the head, and helmet-to-helmet contact are all unnecessary to playing of the game. When in doubt, contact to or with the helmet should be ruled a foul by the game officials.

Another significant change this season will be a new interpretation of the legal catch. A receiver now will be required to establish possession of the ball and contact the ground inbounds while maintaining possession regardless of the opponent's action. In previous years, the official could have ruled that an airborne player would have come down inbound but was prevented from doing so because of contact by the opponent. This is no longer the case.

There was a revision on blocking below the waist. Previously, it was that it was NOT a foul for a player to block below the waist if the hand(s) of the opponent was first contacted below the waist. Now the change stipulates that such action is a foul.

The members of the kicking team on free kicks (kick-offs) are now prohibited from initiating contact (blocking) against members of the receiving team until the ball has broken the plane of the receiving team's restraining line, or until the kicking team is eligible to recover the free kick.

Three other changes deal with equipment. The new glove rule has been pushed ahead to be effective in 2012. Grasping the tooth and mouth protector, as well as the face mask, is now a foul. For all of you that use a play card during the game, the play card band MUST be worn on the wrist or arm or it will be considered illegal equipment. This is also a point of emphasis for the game officials - enforcing that all legal equipment is worn properly. Required and optional equipment is made for the well being of the players. Risk minimization comes first and the safety of the players on both teams is the number one priority of both officials and the coaches. Pants that do not cover the knee, using a tinted eye shield, uncovered shoulder, rib and back protectors, wearing bicep bands, neck bands, and leg bands, wearing jewelry, and the list just seems to grow every year! It is the player's responsibility - with the help of his coach - to understand what is permissible and what is not. It is the official's responsibility to not accept anything that is not allowed by rule and to be prudent in enforcing this rule.

The number one point of emphasis this year is again on concussions. It continues to be a focus of attention in football at all levels of competition. In the past several years, data has shown that more than half of all the concussions in high school football were a direct result of helmet-to-helmet contact. The NFHS offers a free course "Concussions in Sports: What You Need to know" that is available at It is a brief and user friendly resource not just for coaches and officials, but also for student-athletes, parents, and other interested individuals. You can see how the rule changes and points of emphasis are connected together. A properly fitted helmet - worn and used properly - can never be "concussion proof". All persons involved with interscholastic football share the responsibilty for promoting health and safety. Helmet contact is dangerous and illegal. Butt blocking, face tackling and spearing are all fouls carrying a 15-yard penalty and could also draw a disqualification if the covering oifficial deemed it a flagrant act. Game officials and coaches must realize that helmet-to-helmet and illegal helmet contact fouls need to be consistently called throughout the game. It is important above the shoulders. While inadvertent contact between helmets may occur in close line play or as players are closely engaged, it is the official's job to know when the "line has been crossed" and an illegal act has occurred. Whenb in doubt, it should be ruled a foul. Don't become a statistic.......Keep The Head Out Of Football!!

Have a great season!

Paul Trzybinski - President & Interpreter
Western New York Chapter
N.Y.S. Association of Certified Football Officials

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