Football is right around the corner, but the game may have a different look across the Bay State this year.
It was roughly a year ago when the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) board of directors voted to support a change put forth by the tournament management committee for all MIAA sports, football specifically, to follow the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) rules beginning this season.
Prior to that this season, Massachusetts and Texas were the only states in the country to not play under NFHS rules.
The change from MIAA rules, which were also used in the collegiate game in the commonwealth, not only affects teams and coaches, but the referees—particularly the ones who also officiate the college game during the fall.
The majority of the changes were put in place to provide a safer game and others are to quicken up gameplay. Regardless of where teams and schools stand on the decision to change the rules, coaching staffs will have to adjust and remain patient while everyone gets up to speed. Overall, as with any football game, the communication between coaches and officials will be pivotal as everyone gets on the same page in an effort to avoid tempers flaring in what is already an emotional game.
Below is an overview of some of the major changes to the high school football game, per the MIAA PowerPoint slides (available on the MIAA’s website for public viewing).
Blindside Blocking & Targeting
Under the new NFHS rules blindside blocks, defined as a block against an opponent other than the runner who does not see the blocker approaching, will result in a 15-yard penalty. A blocking player must be screening with his hands and deflecting the player, not lowering his shoulder and launching himself into the opponent. A clean and legal blindside block utilizes an open-hand push technique and refrains from leading with shoulder and/or helmet into the head and neck area of the opposing player.
If a player is ruled to have committed a blindside block, officials will decide whether a targeting penalty will be enforced. Leading with the crown of the helmet is not permitted and, in certain cases, leading high in the head and neck area with the shoulder, will be flagged for targeting. Additionally, preceding clues for officials to make a targeting call against a defenseless player will be if one launches himself, or leaves his feet, or goes from a crouch to an upward/forward thrust. If a player is called for a blindside block as well as a targeting call, a flagrant call will be handed down and the guilty player will be ejected in the game. Per the MIAA website, however, these have to be clear and obvious situations that leave no doubt both fouls were committed.
Plays that should not be called for targeting are heads-up tackles when players have outstretched arms and inadvertent or accidental contact. Additionally officials must keep in mind quick movements of the head. For example, two players making head-to-head contact on a loose ball is considered a “football play,” and no penalty should be assessed.
Blocking Below The Waist & Blocks In Back
New this season will be a vast reduction in how teams cut block, or blocks below the waist for both offensive and defensive players. Blocking below the waist is permitted from the time the ball is snapped until the ball leaves the free-blocking zone or neutral zone (three yards off the line of scrimmage and four yards within the ball). When the free-blocking zone exists, offensive and defensive linemen may block each other below the waist. Backs, linebackers and receivers are not permitted to block below the waist. Additionally, blocking below the waist can only occur when a player is in a three-point stance. If the offense is operating out of a shotgun formation, the block below the waist must occur right at the snap.
Defenses can also be called for blocking below the waist as it pertains to linebackers or safeties taking out pulling guards or blocking backs to free up a one-on-one situation for his defensive teammate against a ball carrier.
Blocks in the back are allowed by offensive linemen on the line of scrimmage in a free-blocking zone at the snap only against defensive players in the free-blocking zone at the time of the snap. There is also further clarification on chop blocks, defined as a combination block by two or more teammates against an opponent other than the runner, with or without delay, where one of the blocks is low and one of the blocks is high. Low is defined as below the knee while high is considered above the knee. So players can double-team single players high or low, just not both on one player at the same time.
40-25 Play Clock, Timeouts & Game Length
Leading into this year, each coach had three 20-second timeouts and two full, one-minute timeouts at his disposal per half. This year, however, that number has been reduced to just three one-minute timeouts per half.
Also pertaining to on-field timing will be the new implementation of the 40-25 play clock and when to utilize each start of the game clock. Dead balls in and out of bounds will both set in motion a 40-second play clock on the ensuing play. The only difference is that the game clock stays running on a dead ball in bounds, while the game clock picks up again at the snap after a dead ball out of bounds.
When the offensive team records a first down they are awarded with a new 40-second play clock while the game clock starts back up on the official’s signal. After a team calls a timeout, a 25-second play clock begins while the game clock starts on the snap.
Charged penalties, injuries and helmet offenses, and measurements all receive a 25-second play clock while the game clock begins once the officials are ready. A change of possession will result in a 25-second play clock, with game clock starting on the ensuing snap while a double change of possession, with the original team ultimately retaining the ball, results in a 40-second play clock and the game clock beginning once the officials are ready.
Every new quarter will begin with a 25-second play clock with the game clock starting on the snap. The same can be said during legal kicks.
Also new this year will be the extension of the game length, extending from 10- or 11-minute quarters in certain instances to 12-minute quarters statewide. As it pertains to teams from the Mayflower Athletic Conference, which includes UCT, games will be played under 10-minute quarters on a one-year basis.
The inside hash marks will move closer to the sidelines in 2019. Previously, the hash marks were set 60 feet away from the sidelines; now they will be 53 feet, 4 inches from the sidelines. This may affect how teams approach running to the short-side of the field. Conversely, it may help teams in the two-minute drill at controlling the clock and running to the shorter side of the field, especially with lesser timeouts. It may also aid teams in having better communication between the coaching staff and players being seven feet closer to the sideline in similar situations without having to use timeouts.
Automatic First Downs
In previous years, offenses could be bailed out in third-and-very long situations with the help of automatic first down penalties. Not in 2019. Only four penalties will award the offense with an automatic first down: roughing the kicker, holder, snapper and passer. Defensive pass interference, a call that did previously grant a new set of downs, is now only a 15-yard penalty.