HEADLINE: Playing by the new rules
SUBHEAD: NFSH tightens some football regulations for 2015
By Ken Karrson
Playing by the rules just got a little more involved.
In an ongoing effort to reduce injury risks in prep football, the National Federation of State High School Associations expanded the provisions of unnecessary roughness to include contact with a defenseless player. The revision in Rule 9-4-3g was one of six changes recommended by the NFHS’ Football Rules Committee at its January meeting in Indianapolis and subsequently approved by the organization’s Board of Directors.
The new rules go into effect nationwide for the 2015 season.
The revised defenseless-player edict now states that “no player or non-player shall make any contact with an opponent, including a defenseless player, which is deemed unnecessary or excessive and which incites roughness.” According to Bob Colgate, director of sports and sports medicine at the NFHS and editor of the NFHS football rules, an example would be when a defensive player who was not in the vicinity of the ball is “blindsided” by a blocker on the offensive team.
Another safety-based change involves spearing, which will now defined as “an act by any player who initiates contact against an opponent at the shoulders or below with the crown (top portion) of his helmet.”
“The committee spent considerable time discussing and clarifying expectations related to contact involving any player that is deemed excessive or unnecessary -- including spearing -- that may occur during play,” Brad Garrett, chair of the NFHS Football Rules Committee and assistant executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association, said in a statement. “Minimizing risks to players involved in these situations must remain at the forefront of the game.”
Local coaches who were asked for their opinion didn’t disagree with the sentiment. Former Oak Lawn coach Sean Lucas, who’ll take over at Argo in the fall for the retired Jim Innis, welcomes the rule changes -- assuming they are properly applied. He said the “defenseless player” designation, in particular, will need to be whistled both ways.
“You see defenders get called for the spearing penalty every season, but rarely do you see a running back get called who is essentially doing the same thing,” Lucas said. “Officials will need to understand the spirit of the rules and consistently apply them to game play on Friday nights. They also need to be able to accurately describe to coaches any gray areas that come up in the application of rules.”
According to Shepard coach Dominic Passolano, however, different gray areas may exist from official to official.
“The thing that concerns me is how inconsistent many of these crews are when they call our games,” Passolano said. “We are hurting for refs and it’s tough to find very capable guys who want to fill the need of being competent refs. From game to game you get a wide variety of skill levels and, to be honest, overall knowledge of the rules of the game.
“So when we have these rule changes come up and some of these rules are based on the interpretations of the crews working your game, you get worried there will be inconsistencies from game to game.”
Colgate said the NFHS credits the implementation of the first spearing rule in 1971 with playing a dramatic role in injury reduction and expects the new rules to have similarly positive effects. But as Lucas, Passolano and Brother Rice boss Brian Badke all insisted, coaches must do their part as well.
“Coaches need to continue teaching the best practices of tackling and build consistent fundamentals for players to execute on Friday nights,” Lucas said.
“As is the case with any rules, coaches will adapt,” Passolano said. “We will adapt in how we are going to teach the game and make it work and safe for our kids.”
Badke agrees with his coaching brethren, saying “the game is changing to make it safer, and as coaches we need to accept the changes and be sure our kids understand the rule changes and stress the importance at practice on a daily basis.” Badke added, however, that for the good of the sport itself it is incumbent upon coaches to make their priorities clear to everyone.
“As coaches, we need to always be promoting our sport by stressing to the parents and student-athletes that safety is our No. 1 priority during the season and offseason training,” he said. “I am concerned about the game and what the future holds for high school football.
“Less kids are playing grammar school football, which has hurt high school numbers already. There are a lot more options for these kids to play other sports, which is taking away from football.”
Among the other changes being enacted are ones dealing with free-kick formations, enforcement of dead-ball fouls and incidental face-mask penalties. In the case of the latter, a first down will no longer be awarded on such an infraction.
A complete listing all the rules changes, as well as those affecting prep soccer, is available at www.nfhs.org<http://www.nfhs.org. Click on “Activities & Sports at the top of the homepage and select either “football” or “soccer.”
NOTE: The Illinois High School Association also contributed to this report.