High School Football Rules Changes
40-Second Play Clock, State Option for Postseason Instant Replay Among Changes in High School Football
INDIANAPOLIS, IN (February 11, 2019) — In an effort to establish a more consistent time period between downs in high school football, the play clock will start at 40 seconds instead of 25 seconds in many cases beginning with the 2019 season.
This change was one of seven rules revisions recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Football Rules Committee at its January 13-15 meeting in Indianapolis, which were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.
The play clock will continue to start at 25 seconds (a) prior to a try following a score, (b) to start a period or overtime series, (c) following administration of an inadvertent whistle, (d) following a charged time-out, (e) following an official’s time-out, with a few exceptions, and (f) following the stoppage of the play clock by the referee for any other reason. In all other cases, 40 seconds will be placed on the play clock and start when the ball is declared dead by a game official.
Previously, the ball was marked ready-for-play when, after it had been placed for a down, the referee gave the ready-for-play signal and the 25-second count began. Beginning next season, in addition to the above situations when the 25-second count is used, the ball will also be ready for play when, starting immediately after the ball has been ruled dead by a game official after a down, the ball has been placed on the ground by the game official and the game official has stepped away to position.
“The entire committee needs to be commended for its thorough discussion regarding the move to a 40-second play clock, except in specific situations that will still have a 25-second play clock to show play is ready to begin,” said Todd Tharp, assistant director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association and chair of the NFHS Football Rules Committee. “This is one of the most substantial game administration rules changes to be approved in the past 10 years, and without detailed experimentation from several state associations over the past three years, along with cooperation of the NFHS Football Game Officials Manual Committee, all the elements needed to approve this proposal would not have been in place.
Another significant change approved by the committee was the addition of a note to Rule 1-3-7 to permit state associations to create instant-replay procedures for state postseason contests only. This revision would allow game or replay officials to use a replay monitor during state postseason contests to review decisions by the on-field game officials. Use of a replay monitor would be on a state-by-state adoption basis, and the methodology for reviewing calls would be determined by the applicable state association.
“The ultimate goal of each game official and each officiating crew is to get the call correct,” Tharp said. “Each state association, by individual adoption, can now use replay or video monitoring during its respective postseason contests to review decisions by the on-field game officials. Each state association, if it adopts this rules revision, will also create the parameters and scope of the replay.”
With regard to uniforms, the NFHS Football Rules Committee clarified the size requirements for numbers on jerseys through the 2023 season and added a new requirement effective with the 2024 season. Clarifications to Rule 1-5-1c (in bold) that are in effect through the 2023 state that the numbers, inclusive of any border, shall be centered horizontally at least 8 inches and 10 inches high on front and back, respectively. In addition, the entire body of the number (the continuous horizontal bars and vertical strokes) exclusive of any border(s) shall be approximately 1½-inches wide. Finally, through the 2023 season, the body of the number (the continuous horizontal bars and vertical strokes) shall be either: (a) a continuous color(s) contrasting with the jersey color; or (b) the same color(s) as the jersey with a minimum of one border that is at least ¼-inch in width of a single solid contrasting color.
Effective with the 2024 season, the entire body of the number (the continuous horizontal bars and vertical strokes) of the number shall be a single solid color that clearly contrasts with the body color of the jersey.
“The purpose of numbers on jerseys is to provide clear identification of players,” said Bob Colgate, NFHS director of sports and sports medicine and staff liaison to the NFHS Football Rules Committee. “In order to enhance the ability to easily identify players, the committee has clarified the size requirements for jersey numbers through the 2023 season and added a new requirement for the 2024 season.”
Two changes were approved by the committee in an effort to reduce the risk of injury in high school football. First, tripping the runner is now prohibited. Beginning next season, it will be a foul to intentionally use the lower leg or foot to obstruct a runner below the knees. Previously, a runner was not included in the definition of tripping. Second, in Rule 9-4-3k, the “horse-collar” foul was expanded to include the name-plate area, which is directly below the back collar. Colgate said grabbing the name-plate area of the runner’s jersey, directly below the back collar, and pulling the runner to the ground is now an illegal personal contact foul.
A change in the definition of a legal scrimmage formation was approved. A legal scrimmage formation now requires at least five offensive players on their line of scrimmage (instead of seven) with no more than four backs. The committee noted that this change will make it easier to identify legal and illegal offensive formations.
The final change approved by the NFHS Football Rules Committee for the 2019 season was a reduction in the penalty for illegally kicking or batting the ball from 15 yards to 10 yards.
A complete listing of the football rules changes will be available on the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org. Click on “Activities & Sports” at the top of the home page and select “Football.”
According to the 2017-18 NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey, 11-player football is the most popular high school sport for boys with 1,036,842 participants in 14,079 schools nationwide. In addition, there were almost 30,000 boys who participated in 6-, 8- and 9-player football, along with approximately 2,500 girls who played the sport for a grand total of 1,068,870.
2019 NFHS FOOTBALL RULES CHANGES
BY STATE ASSOCIATION ADOPTION, USE OF VIDEO REVIEW ALLOWED FOR STATE POST-SEASON CONTESTS [1-3-7 NOTE (NEW), TABLE 1-7 – 1-3-7 NOTE (NEW)]
Rationale: By state association adoption, instant replay may only be used during state postseason contests to review decisions by the on-field game officials. This adoption would allow state associations to develop protocols for use of video replay.
IMPROVED VISIBILITY OF NUMBERS [1-5-1c, 1-5-1c(6) (NEW)]
Rationale: The purpose of numbers on jerseys is to provide clear identification of players. In order to enhance the ability to easily identify players, the committee has clarified the size requirements for jersey numbers through the 2023 season. The committee also added a new requirement that, effective in the 2024 season, jersey numbers must be a single solid color that clearly contrasts with the body color of the jersey.
REDEFINED REQUIREMENTS FOR A LEGAL SCRIMMAGE FORMATION [2-14-1, 7-2-5a]
Rationale: A legal scrimmage formation now requires at least five offensive players on their line of scrimmage with no more than four backs. This change will make it easier to identify legal and illegal offensive formations.
PROHIBITION ON TRIPPING THE RUNNER [2-45, 9-4-3o (NEW), 9-4-3o PENALTY (NEW)]
Rationale: In an effort to decrease risk, tripping the runner is now prohibited. It is now a foul to intentionally use the lower leg or foot to obstruct a runner below the knees.
40-SECOND PLAY CLOCK [2-35-1, 3-6-1, 3-6-2a, 7-2-1]
Rationale: To have a more consistent time period between downs, the rules committee approved situations where 40 seconds will be placed on the play clock. The new rule defines when 40 seconds will be placed on the play clock and when 25 seconds will be placed on the play clock.
HORSE-COLLAR TACKLE ADDITION [9-4-3k]
Rationale: Grabbing the name plate area of the jersey of the runner, directly below the back collar, and pulling the runner to the ground is now an illegal personal contact foul.
ILLEGAL KICKING AND BATTING PENALTY REDUCED [9-7 PENALTY]
Rationale: The penalty for illegally kicking or batting the ball was reduced from 15 yards to 10 yards.
2019 EDITORIAL CHANGES
2-6-2b, 5-2-2, 5-2-4, 6-5-4, 7-2-5a, 8-5-2 EXCEPTION, 9-3-8 PENALTY, 10-4-2c EXCEPTION, 10-5-1j
2019 POINTS OF EMPHASIS
1. Proper Procedures for Weather Delays
2. Expanded Neutral Zone as it Applies to Run or Pass Options
3. Free-Blocking Zone and Legal Blocking
**As of February 11, 2019
2019 NFHS FOOTBALL POINTS OF EMPHASIS
Proper Procedures for Weather Delays
At some point during the high school football season, many parts of the country have toaddress weather issues. Some of these, according to NFHS guidelines, dictate a suspension/delay during a game. Most of the time, the delay is due to lightning and thunder (either lightningseen or thunder heard); and when a suspension or delay occurs, the teams are sent toa safe, sheltered area until the weather situation has ended. NFHS guidelines on handlinglightning and thunder delays require use of the 30-minute rule, meaning when the game hasbeen suspended, play cannot resume until at least 30 minutes have elapsed following thelast sighting of lightning or the sound of thunder. Once the game is suspended, each furtherinstance of lightning or thunder requires a reset of the clock and the commencement of anew 30-minute interval.
Seldom is there a problem with game officials or site administrators following the basic30-minute rule when there is lightning or thunder. However, some game officials andadministrators are not abiding by the mandatory halftime intermission and warm-up rulewhen there is a lightning delay near the end of the first half. If there is such a delay late inthe second period, once the second period is completed, NFHS playing rules require a halftimeintermission of at least 10 minutes followed by the required 3-minute warm-up periodbefore the third period may begin. Coaches or game officials cannot shorten the halftimeintermission or the warm-up period. However, both coaches could agree to shorten (end)the second period during the delay, and then the third period could start after the delayassoon as the mandatory warm-up period is completed.
It is important for game officials, coaches and administrators to be aware of the intermission and warm-up rules on nights when the weather could present delays and toadminister those NFHS football rules correctly. halftime
Free-Blocking Zone and Legal Blocking
The free-blocking zone is a rectangular area established when the ball is snapped. It extends 4 yards laterally on either side of the ball, and 3 yards behind each line of scrimmage.
Blocking below the waist and blocking in the back may be permitted in the free-blockingzone provided that certain conditions are met.
Offensive and defensive linemen may block each other below the waist in the free-blockingzone providedthat all players involved in the blocking are on their line of scrimmage and in the free-blocking zone at the snap, and the ball is in the zone. Each team’s line ofscrimmage is a vertical plane through the point of the ball closest to that team’s goal line.
Offensive linemen may block defensive players in the back in the free-blocking zone aslong as the blocker is on his line of scrimmage and in the free-blocking zone at the snap, theopponent is in the free-blocking zone at the snap, and the contact is in the zone.
To determine whether blocking below the waist and blocking in the back are legal, gameofficials must first determine whether players are in the free-blocking zone at the snap. Since offensive linemen are in the zone if any part of their body is in the zone at the snap,game officials must check the spacing between offensive linemen. As long as the line isusing “normal” splits and the formation is “balanced” (i.e., the distance between the outsidefoot of each lineman and the inside foot of the adjacent linemen is no greater than 2 feetand an equal number of linemen are on each side of the snapper), all players, including thetight end, are deemed to be in the zone at the snap. If the splits are wider than 2 feet, thetight end is considered out of the zone and therefore cannot legally block below the waistor in the back.
Once game officials determine which players are in the zone at the snap, the next determinationis whether a block below the waist or a block in the back occurs in the free-blockingzone. Because the free-blocking zone disintegrates once the ball leaves the zone, it may bedifficult to determine whether the ball is in the zone at the time the block occurs when theoffense is using a “shotgun” formation (a formation where there is no direct hand-to-handsnap and the player who receives the snap is more than 3 yards behind his line of scrimmage),due to the very short time interval between the snap and the ball leaving the zone.
In addition to observing blocking by offensive linemen, game officials must also be alertto defenders “cutting” running backs and wide receivers who are not on their line of scrimmageor in the free-blocking zone at the snap. Restrictions on blocking below the waistapply equally to offensive and defensive players. Finally, offensive players in the backfieldcan never legally block below the waist or in the back.
**As of May 2019
2018-2019 NFHS FOOTBALL GAME OFFICIALS MANUAL POINTS OF EMPHASIS
Equipment Issues to be Addressed
It is critical for all game officials to continue to strengthen their efforts to address all issues that deal with the current equipment requirements. Game officials must focus on these three areas of concern: (1) required equipment not worn properly (pants that do not cover the knees), (2) required and/or legal equipment missing or not being used correctly (no knee pads, thigh guards or hip pads), and (3) wearing illegal equipment (a hard cast not properly covered).
One adjustment made to Rule 1-5-4 requires that the head coach will verify to the referee and another game official prior to the game that "his players have been issued all of the required equipment and they will not use illegal equipment."
Crew members are encouraged to become very observant throughout their pre-game responsibilities and to be prepared to immediately address any equipment issues with the player and a coach. Appropriate communication with the player in the presence of the coach allows for correction to be made prior to the beginning of the contest and avoids problems during the game.
Once the game has started, a major rule change (NFHS Football Rule 3-5-10e) for 2018 calls for an official's time-out to be declared for the removal from the game for at least one down of any player who is wearing required/legal equipment improperly or not at all or is wearing illegal equipment. It is certainly appropriate to allow the correction of the equipment problem quickly and avoid removing the player if the correction/repair is clearly possible in a timely manner (a tooth and mouth protector is hanging from the face mask or a back pad attached to the shoulder pads is not covered by the jersey). Multiple requests are NOT recommended/encouraged to address an equipment problem that continues to be an issue. NFHS Football Rule 3-5-10e is likely to get results as this concern is addressed.
Rule 9-9 (Failure to Properly Wear Required Equipment) has been deleted from the 2018 NFHS Football Rules Book. Rule 3-6-2 no longer calls for a delay-of-game foul for failure to properly wear required/legal equipment. An important change to Rule 9-8-1h calls for an unsportsmanlike foul charged to the head coach if, and only if, a player(s) is wearing illegal equipment.
Game officials are very strongly urged to immediately address this current problem with equipment issues early and often as the 2018 season begins. There is appropriate rule support now for dealing with these problems, and this problem cannot be ignored. It will not go away if game officials fail to take appropriate action.
Consistent Pace of Play Throughout the Game
The time difference in marking the ball ready-for-play from referee to referee has incorrectly varied and often very significantly. The time period between downs is supposed to be dictated by the offensive team and not the game officials. The rules afford teams the option of running their offense as fast or as slow as they choose. In many situations, teams are waiting for game officials to declare the ball ready-for-play and could have already resumed, or attempted to resume play. Once the ball is retrieved and placed on the ground for play, all game officials should be in position and ready to officiate without worry of an illegal snap. While regularity and consistency is the responsibility of every game official on the field, the referee likely has the most effect on this procedure. Situations occur such as the referee being overly patient for a quarterback receiving the play call from the coach at the sideline or other crew members unevenly hurrying to retrieve the ball as time declines near the end of a half. Such practices, as inadvertent as they may be, project an inappropriate attitude of bias towards one team or the other and additionally subtract from the fairness of the game.
The 2018-2019 NFHS Football Game Officials Manual is clear on the appropriate procedures in the Basic Philosophy Principles section entitled "Marking the Ball Ready for Play." After the ball is spotted, three to five seconds should be the maximum time to signal the ready-for-play, and game officials are required to" hustle to their proper positions" so that the "same tempo can be maintained throughout the game." Teams want and deserve consistency in this regard.
Timing Rules and Procedures
While the rules allow for some flexibility in length of periods and halftime intermissions, there are set limitations. Risk minimization continues to be an emphasis in football and certain rules are in place to protect warm-up and rest periods, and these rules must be followed without exception.
Length of Periods can be shortened:
1. Shorten any period or periods in any emergency by agreement of opposing coaches and the referee. By mutual agreement of the opposing coaches and the referee, any remaining period may be shortened at any time or the game terminated. (3-1-3)
2. By agreement of the opposing coaches and the referee, the halftime intermission may be reduced to a minimum of 10 minutes (not including the mandatory warm-up period). (TABLE 3-1)
3. When weather conditions are construed to be hazardous to life or limb of the participants, the crew of game officials is authorized to delay or suspend the game. (3-1-5)
When dealing with lightning or thunder disturbances during a game, please refer to the "NFHS Guidelines on Handling Practices and Contests During Lightning or Thunder Disturbances" in Appendix E of the NFHS Football Rules Book. If a lightning or thunder disturbance occurs near halftime intermission, this delay cannot be treated as halftime intermission. After a weather delay, by rule the second period must be completed and halftime intermission shall be declared. (3-1-3) Halftime intermission may be reduced to a minimum of 10 minutes by agreement of the opposing coaches and the referee. (3-1-3, TABLE 3-1) Rest periods are important for the well-being of the players and should be followed as prescribed.
**As of June 2018
NEW - "After Market" items to be removed from helmets to return them to original condition. Read More
A reminder of the message sent to member schools who sponsor football on March 10: The NFHS received notification from the NAERA, National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association, that effective in 2012, no football helmet older than ten years will be reconditioned and recertified. This would apply to helmets dated 2002 or older. Click Here.
The change will impact helmets for use in the 2012 football season. This is neither a ‘WIAA rule’ nor an ‘NFHS rule’. This directive is coming from the reconditioners themselves and it is significant.
Education – along with proper football techniques – is one of the biggest deterrents to concussions and one of the keys to athletes being treated properly if one does occur
Direct helmet-to-helmet contact and any other contact both with and to the helmet must be eliminated from the sport of football at the interscholastic level! Using the helmet to inflict punishment on the opponent is dangerous and illegal. Coaches and game officials must be diligent in promoting the elimination of contact to and with the helmet, as follows:
• Coaches -- through consistent adherence to proper and legal coaching techniques.
• Game Officials -- through strict enforcement of pertinent playing rules and game administrations.
Coaches must insist that players play “heads-up” football by utilizing proper and safe techniques, - not only during games, but on the practice field as well. Coaches must shoulder the responsibility of consistently reinforcing with their players that using the top or face of the helmet goes against all tenets of the basic techniques of safe and legal blocking and tackling.
The No. 1 responsibility for game officials must be player safety. Any initiation of contact with the helmet is illegal; therefore, it must be penalized consistently and without warning. Player safety is really a matter of attitude, technique, attention and supervision. Football players will perform as they are taught; therefore, there must be a concentrated focus on consistently enforcing the existing rules. And contrary to most other rule enforcements, when in doubt, contact to and with the helmet should be ruled as a foul by game officials. Contact to and with the helmet may be considered a flagrant act and may be penalized by disqualification if a game official considers the foul so severe or extreme that it places an opponent in danger of serious injury.
NOCSAE Statement - Add-Ons (2018) | NOCSAE Statement - Add-ons
The NFHS does not perform scientific tests on any specific items of equipment to determine if the equipment poses undue risks to the student-athletes, coaches, officials or spectators. Such determinations are the responsibility of equipment manufacturers, and we rely heavily on products meeting NOCSAE standards.
NFHS Football Rule 1-5-1a states, in part, that “A helmet and facemask which met the NOCSAE test standard at the time of manufacture…” is required. A consideration in determining whether add-on helmet attachments are legal is that our rule specifies only that the helmet had to meet the NOCSAE test standard at the time of manufacture; helmet add-ons typically are added after the time of helmet manufacture.
The attached NOCSAE Statement gives manufacturers of add-on attachments (in the fourth bullet) the option to have helmets tested with the helmet add-on attached; however, this would presumably require such manufacturers to test every make and model of helmet with their add-on attached.
The third bullet of the NOCSAE Statement gives the right to helmet manufacturers to determine, under the NOCSAE standards, whether given helmet add-on items would render the certification void. While that may occur, we have no information that it has happened yet.
In the interim, absent decisions by the helmet manufacturers, under the NOCSAE standards, to declare their certifications void pursuant to the third bullet point, or absent further revisions of the pertinent NOCSAE Statement, or absent an NFHS football rules change, our position about the permissive use of such helmet add-ons remains unchanged from last August.
We know and understand that this position by NFHS is not as proactive as some may wish as to whether given helmet add-ons should be considered legal; however, when considering the NOCSAE Statement and the applicable rules, the NFHS is not in a position to change our Rules Review Committee determination that such equipment is permissive.
NOCSAE statement on third party helmet add-on products and certification
There are many new products on the market that are intended to be added to helmets, in particular football helmets, which products claim to reduce concussions and make helmets safer and more protective. Read the entire NOCSAE Position Statement.
Rating System Cannot Predict Helmets’ Ability to Prevent Concussions
Protecting Against Injury Does Not Start or End With Helmet Purchase
OVERLAND PARK, KANSAS (May 27, 2014) – The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) applauds and encourages the growing research in the area of concussion protection for athletes, including the work released this month by Virginia Tech. Coaches, consumers and parents should be aware that while the STAR rating system suggests the purchase of specific football helmets, scientific evidence does not support the claim that a particular helmet brand or model is more effective in reducing the occurrence of concussive events. Read More
Statement from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment Regarding 2013 Virginia Tech Star Rating System
“The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) supports and encourages the scientific research being done by Virginia Tech in the very important area of concussion protection for athletes in all sports, and particularly in football. There are, however, very important limitations in the STAR ranking system as recognized by the experts at Virginia Tech. NOCSAE believes that many parents, players, coaches, and athletic directors are unaware of these limitations. Unless the limitations of the STAR ranking system are considered, the potential exists for players, parents, coaches, and administrators to overemphasize the role of the helmet in protecting against concussions. This overemphasis increases the likelihood that less attention will be given to other steps that have a more immediate and much greater impact on concussion reduction. Read More
Minimizing risk for all participants is the number one priority.
When in doubt as to whether or not a targeting foul has occurred - game officials will be instructed to call targeting.
When in doubt as to whether or not a flagrant targeting foul has been committed - game officials will be instructed to classify the foul as flagrant and disqualify the offending player.