The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 18, 2013

A Don McCormack column: Interference penalties changing

Sports Editor

Paying a high school football visit to the variety store...

Passing fancy

In mirroring the National Football League and college football, the passing game has become a bigger part of football at the high school level than ever before.

Fans of the game at the high school level will see two significant rules changes, both in regards to the passing game, commencing with the 2013 season.

Both changes deal with the penalty for pass interference, on both sides of the football.

Starting this fall, the penalty for the infraction will be reduced.

While the 15-yard penalty will remain in effect for both defensive and offensive pass interference, the changes coming into play in regards to downs.

The automatic first down, a trademark for defensive pass interference infractions at every level for seemingly forever, has been eliminated.

Along those lines, the automatic loss of down for offensive pass interference, has also been taken out. That change will not be as readily apparent to fans as offensive pass interference is rarely called, even more so when compared to the number of penalty flags that are tossed for defensive infractions.

“Offensive and defensive pass interference and the penalty structure related to these fouls has been debated many times in recent years,” Brad Garrett, chairman of the National Federation of High School Sports Football Rules Committee and assistant executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association, said. “Proposals that either deleted the loss of down or the automatic first down – but not both – failed to gain support among committee members.

"The proposal to eliminate both components, thus not upsetting the balance between offense and defense, was the key factor in the adoption of the new rule.”

Helmet issues

In an effort to continue minimizing the risk of injury in high school football, three additional rules will take effect this season to address helmets coming off players’ heads during games.

As a followup to last year’s rules change that required players to sit out one play if their helmet comes off while the ball was live, the committee approved three additional rules that are extensions of last year’s change.

An illegal personal contact foul was added to state that “no player or non-player shall initiate contact with an opposing player whose helmet has come completely off.”

Additionally, a new listing will state that it is illegal participation “for a player whose helmet comes completely off during a down to continue to participate beyond the immediate action in which the player is engaged.”

Bob Colgate, NFHS director of sports and sports medicine, explained the additions.

“With its continued focus on risk minimization, the committee determined that a helmet-less player shall not block, tackle or otherwise participate beyond the immediate action in which the player is engaged when the helmet came completely off,” he said“The penalty would be a live-ball, basic-spot foul.”

The NFHS Football Rules Committee also added language that states that if the helmet comes completely off during the down or subsequent dead-ball action related to the down – and is not directly attributable to a foul by the opponent – the player must leave the game for at least one down.

Th exceptions will be at halftime or overtime session. When this occurs, an official’s timeout shall be called.

“Player safety has been and will continue to be the top priority for members of the NFHS Football Rules Committee,” Garrett said. “These rules changes regarding helmet-less players are more examples of the group’s commitment to minimize risk within the game.”

Catching on

The rules committee also clarified a rule approved last year regarding the definition of a catch.

That rule stated that a receiver is required to establish possession of the ball and contact the ground inbounds while maintaining possession – regardless of the opponent’s action.

“The committee clarified the definition of a catch such that an airborne player who has forward progress stopped inbounds and is carried out of bounds by an opponent before contacting the ground is awarded a catch at the spot of forward progress,” Colgate said.

McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at