The National Federation of State High School Associations, which creates rules for high school sports nationwide, is seeking a more balanced formation on kickoffs to reduce injuries from open field collisions.
The rule now requires the kicking team to have at least four players on either side of the kicker from the time the whistle blows until the ball is kicked. All players except the kicker must be within five yards of the kicking team’s line. For a kickoff from the 40-yard line, the kicking team must have four or more players on both sides of the kicker and they must all be between the 35 and 40. Only the kicker may start deeper than the 35 and he must actually make the kick. If anyone else kicks the ball it’s a foul. Teams can still pull the ole switcheroo where another player kicks the ball, but only if all 11 players are between the 35 and 40.
Another major change involves roughing the passer. This foul has always been called on late hits to the quarterback after the ball is thrown. It carries a 15-yard penalty plus automatic first down from the end of the run if the pass is complete — the line of scrimmage if incomplete. The new rule makes it roughing the passer if any illegal personal contact is committed against the passer. This includes face mask, horse collar tackle and spearing. Any illegal contact, not just a late hit, can now be considered roughing the passer.
You’ve heard the terms “targeting” and “defenseless player” a lot recently at all levels of football. The National Federation, NCAA and NFL are all trying to protect players from concussions by removing blows intentionally directed toward the head. In high school rules it was already illegal to contact an opponent with the helmet above the shoulders, but the new rule contains stronger language and specific terminology.
“Targeting is an act of taking aim and initiating contact to an opponent above the shoulders with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulders.”
A definition for defenseless player was added this year. It’s a player who, because of his physical position and focus of concentration, is especially vulnerable to injury. Coaches and game officials have been encouraged to help reduce head injuries by making sure players understand the dangers of targeting and illegal contact against defenseless players.
A minor rule revision this year involves a foul on the last play of a quarter. In the past, we’ve extended the quarter by an untimed down if a foul occurred during the last play. This year, time must run out during that down in order to extend. Example: A foul is called on the last play of the quarter and the clock is stopped with one second left. Penalty is accepted and stepped off. Clock starts again. Last year we would have extended the quarter by an untimed down. This year, the period is over because time didn’t run out during the down.
Our local high school high teams have been practicing hard for the past few weeks. They need your support. I hope you will be there for every game.
(Joe Wilson has been a TSSAA football official for over 40 years. He is rules officer for the Tri County Football Officials Association.)