The rule regarding blocking below the waist in the free-blocking zone in high school football has been revised for the upcoming 2021 season.
This rule change was recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Football Rules Committee at its Jan. 10-12 meeting, which was held virtually this year. This change to the 2021 NFHS Football Rules Book was subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.
As a result of numerous interpretations of current language regarding blocking below the waist in the free-blocking zone, the committee approved another condition in Rule 2-17-2 that must be met for a legal block below the waist in the free-blocking zone, which is a rectangular area extending laterally 4 yards either side of the spot of the snap and 3 yards behind each line of scrimmage.
The new requirement (2-17-2c) is that the block must be an immediate, initial action following the snap. Under the current rule, an offensive lineman can delay and then block below the waist if the ball is still in the zone. In the committee’s ongoing quest to minimize risk in high school football, the change was approved to require the block to be immediate.
“This change makes it easier for game officials to judge the legality of blocks below the waist and minimizes risk of injury for participants,” said Bob Colgate, NFHS director of sports and sports medicine and liaison to the Football Rules Committee. “This change lets game officials observe the block and make a call without having to determine where the ball is and what formation the offense lined up in.”
Blocking in the back continues to be legal in the free-blocking zone by offensive linemen who are on the line of scrimmage and in the zone at the snap, against defensive players who are in the zone at the snap and the contact is in the zone.
The committee noted there has been no criticism of the current rules governing blocks in the back as they are delayed blocks by nature, above the waist and considered to be a safe and necessary legal block.
“I believe this rule change will help make the interpretation of blocking below the waist consistent across the country starting next football season,” said Richard McWhirter, chair of the NFHS Football Rules Committee and assistant executive director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.
Connecticut high school fans did not see a season last year, so the rules changes made in 2020 will be in force for the first time in the Nutmeg State.
In an effort to eliminate a potential timing advantage gained by the defensive team in high school football, the play clock will be set to 40 seconds when an official’s time-out is taken for an injury to a defensive player or a defensive player has an equipment issue.
This change was one of six rules revisions in 2020.
In 2019, in an effort to establish a more consistent time period between downs, the play clock was expanded from 25 seconds to 40 seconds in many cases, although the play clock remained at 25 seconds in most cases following an official’s time-out. However, this coming season, the play clock will be set at 40 seconds following an injury to a defensive player or a when a defensive player has an equipment issue.
“The rules committee was provided situations in which the defensive team was gaining a timing advantage late in games with a defensive injury or an equipment issue with the defense,” said Todd Tharp, assistant director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association and chair of the NFHS Football Rules Committee. “Under the current rule, if a play ended with less than 40 seconds left in the game and a defensive player was injured which resulted in an official’s time-out, the play clock would reset to 25 seconds and another play would need to be run. With the new rule change, another play would not need to be run.”
In the same rule dealing with the play clock (Rule 3-6-1), the committee approved one additional situation when 25 seconds will be on the play clock. Beginning next season, 25 seconds will be on the play clock and start on the ready-for-play signal when a new series is awarded following a legal free kick or scrimmage kick.
Two changes to Rule 7 – Snapping, Handling and Passing the Ball – were approved by the committee. The exception in Rule 7-5-2 regarding an illegal forward pass being a foul was expanded. Previously, it was legal to conserve time only by intentionally throwing the ball forward to the ground immediately after receiving a direct hand-to-hand snap. The committee expanded the exception to permit a player positioned directly behind the center (shotgun formation) to intentionally ground the ball.
In Rule 7-1, a new Article 9 states that no defensive player shall use disconcerting acts or words prior to the snap in an attempt to interfere with an offensive player’s signals or movements.
Bob Colgate, NFHS director of sports and sports medicine and staff liaison to the NFHS Football Rules Committee, said this language was moved from Rule 9-5-1d and has been reclassified from a 15-yard unsportsmanlike foul to a 5-yard foul.
In addition, several rules will be affected by the committee’s ruling that the head coach, prior to the game, should notify the referee as to the team’s designated representative (coach or player) who will make decisions regarding penalty acceptance or declination. Several locations in the rules book required the team captains to make these decisions, so the new language throughout the book will provide teams more options.
The final change approved by the committee is an addition to the Note in Table 3-1 related to clock times. The new Note 2 will read as follows:
“If the game is interrupted due to weather during the last three minutes of the second period, and the delay is at least 30 minutes, the opposing coaches can mutually agree to shorten halftime intermission, provided there is at least a one-minute intermission (not including the three-minute warm-up period).”
The Football Rules Committee is composed of one representative from each of the NFHS member state associations that use NFHS playing rules, along with representatives from the NFHS Coaches Association, NFHS Officials Association and NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.