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Prep Football Season Begins With Nine NFHS Rules Changes

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Copyright 2013 Capital Gazette Communications, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Maryland Gazette
August 24, 2013
B; Pg.1
753 words
Prep, youth rules changes emphasize safety;
Concussions drive shift
MIKE MOREA mmorea@capgaznews.com

As the start of the football season approaches, teams at the high school and youth levels face a set of rule changes that are aimed at player safety and equality.The National Federation of State High School Associations decided to change nine rules, stressing the ongoing issue of concussions among high school and youth sports.

The most significant change is the penalty enforcement for offensive and defensive pass interference. If the offensive team commits a pass interference infraction, the penalty remains a 15-yard mark-off. However, the NFHS ruled to eliminate the loss of down penalty.

Conversely, if the defensive team commits a pass interference violation, the 15-yard penalty still remains, but the automatic first down that was previously enforced has been eliminated.

"For years, it has been long debated that the penalty for offensive pass interference just about cripples an offensive drive at any level," said Jason Soistman, director of football for Champion Officials . "The NFHS has long been about equity. Finally this year, a proposal to remove the penalty from both pass interference fouls passed to keep an equitable balance between offense and defense."

Keeping in mind the safety of the players, the NFHS expanded on the rules governing a player that loses his helmet. Last year, if a player lost his helmet for any reason except for a foul that caused it, the player is required to be replaced for one play. The NFHS decided to include as fouls any player who continues to participate beyond the immediate action in which the player is engaged. This action will now result in a 15-yard, illegal-participation penalty.

It's now a 15-yard penalty for initiating contact with an opposing player whose helmet has come completely off by an opponent.

"The emphasis of the NFHS is to have players wear properly fitted helmets that stay on their head and protect them from head injuries," said Soistman, who also officiates college football for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Centennial Conferences.

Another change now allows the use of communication devices by the coaches. The devices can only be used by coaches and non-players.

"I think this could be really big," Soistman said. "This most certainly went on in the past, but it was virtually unenforceable. These devices can be used during timeouts when players are near the sideline. The coach is prohibited from using the devices to confer with players on the field during a timeout."

The definition of a catch has been clarified again by the NFHS. Previously, the definition stated a catch was the act of establishing player possession of a live ball, which is in flight and first contacting the ground inbounds while maintaining possession of the ball. Additional wording was added, which reads, "Or having the forward progress of the player in possession stopped while the opponent is carrying the player who is in possession and inbounds."

There is an additional penalty added to the foul for kick-catching interference. The receiving team can accept the results of the play, an awarded fair catch after enforcement of a 15-yard penalty from the spot of the foul or a 15-yard penalty from the previous spot and a replay of the down.

The rule for blocking on free kicks has also been revised. Previously, no member of the kicking team could initiate contact to block an opponent on a free kick until the kick has traveled 10 yards. The kicking team is eligible to recover a free-kicked ball or the receiving team initiates a block within the 10-yard neutral zone.

The other two rule changes allow players to wear solid-colored towels of like color and also that only the offensive team can score on a point-after try.

The points of emphasis for this year include the prohibition on contact to and with the helmet, reconditioning and recertification of football equipment and consistent enforcement of blocking below the waist at the line of scrimmage -- the free blocking zone.

"Every year, the rules committees of the NFL, NCAA, NFHS and USA Football identify critical issues that could potentially have a negative impact on the game," Soistman said. "But in 2013, all three points of emphasis address player safety concerns. I think these areas don't get enough press, and they are buried deep in the rulebook. If it wasn't an issue on a national level, they wouldn't have taken the time to put it in the rulebook. Administrators, coaches, officials and players should all learn and preach these points as keepers of the great game of football."

Meade players run through a contact drill during workouts in preparation for their Sept. 6 season opener.
Meade players run through a contact drill during workouts in preparation for their Sept. 6 season opener.
August 22, 2013

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