While summer will hit its peak this week as families celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, fall and another football season are right around the corner.

With this in mind, the National Federation of State High School Associations released its rule changes and points of emphasis ahead of the 2018 campaign.

Each year the NFHS, the governing body which the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association follows, makes changes and tweaks to the rules in an effort to improve the game and also increase player safety.

This summer, the NFHS took a look at several topics, including player equipment, blindside blocks and defenseless players, as well as addressing pace of play.

What all three have in common is an overall awareness of player safety.

When it comes to player equipment, there have been rules in place to make sure players are not only wearing the correct equipment, but also wearing it properly. In the past, the equipment violations were accompanied by stiff on-the-field penalties which officials were reluctant to call. As part of the NFHS points of emphasis for the 2018-2019 school year, penalties for equipment violations have been lessened, with the hope being officials will be more inclined to enforce the equipment rules.

This season, equipment violations will be grouped into three categories, according to the NFHS. Category one includes the failure to properly wear required equipment, such as an unsnapped chin strap, dangling mouth guard, or wearing a jersey that does not fully cover the shoulder pads. In this instance, an officials time-out must be called and the player will be asked to correct the equipment violation before another play is run, or the player will be asked to sit out at least one play while also correcting the violation if such a violation is spotted after a snap has occurred.

The second category includes the failure to use legal and/or required equipment. Like the first category, officials must call a time-out and the player in violation must leave the field for at least one play and cannot return until the violation has been corrected.

The third category includes a player wearing illegal equipment such as cleats that exceed ½ inch or the presence of sticky substances on the player’s uniform. In this instance, if a player is found in violation, the team will be charged with an unsportsmanlike conduct foul. When it comes to safety, no sport is under as much scrutiny as football. It’s a fast and aggressive sport where injuries are all but assured. For the NFHS, the goal has been to avoid as many unnecessary injuries as possible. A year after implementing defenseless player and blindside block penalties, the NFHS made some amendments to the rules in an effort to update and clarify them ahead of the 2018 football season.

Hits on defenseless players has been a huge topic in football, especially since players are only getting faster and stronger. According to the NFHS, a defenseless player is one vulnerable to injury because of their physical position and focus of concentration, such as a quarterback, receiver, sliding runner, runners whose forward progress has been stopped, players out of the play and players who are blindside blocked.

One common theme in all of these examples is that the player being hit is unable to defend himself, which could easily lead to injury.

The clarification of a defenseless player is just a continuation of the rules put in place several years ago for roughing the passer, kick-catching interference, illegal helmet contact, unnecessary roughness and late hits.

Moving onto blindside hits, the NFHS made it clear that while blindside hits are not illegal, there are instances where a blindside hit will be called a penalty.

According to the NFHS, a blindside block penalty will be called this upcoming year if a block occurs outside of the free-blocking zone, a block that is not made with open hands or if the block is unnecessarily forceful.

In the first example, a penalty will be called if a blindside block occurs outside the free-blocking zone, a rectangular area which extends outward four yards in both directions at the spot of the ball and three yards behind the line of scrimmage.

The second example where a penalty will be called is if a player makes a blindside block without initiating contact with open hands, such as a block made helmet or shoulder first. And a penalty will be called in the third example when a player uses unnecessary force to block a player who is vulnerable.

These days, coaches are trained well to help institute these rule changes, something Polytech head coach Kevin Smith and his team are prepared for.

“We’ve been fortunate to not have to change bad habits when it comes to blindside hits,” Smith said. “With the state’s implementation of USA Football “Heads Up Football” Player Safety Program, it has given us drills that we incorporate every defensive day to promote safety when it comes to tackling.”

Caesar Rodney Head Coach Dan Candeloro broke it down even further, perhaps clearing up any grey areas when it comes to the interpretation of how illegal blocks will be called on the field.

“I have no problem with making the game safer - with blindside or black blocks I believe if a player makes an attempt to get in the proper position and it’s not overly aggressive with the block, it’s okay,” Candeloro said. “If a player targets or is waiting on another player and its not trying to get in proper position then it should be called.” 

One of the final points of emphasis this season stated by the NFHS was increased attention toward pace of play.

Pace of play is about more than just making sure the game flows consistently. The NFHS also wants to assure the ability for both teams to make proper substitutions in between plays.

The NFHS points of emphasis state that officials should make the ready-to-play signal between 12 and 16 seconds after the previous dead ball. This time will assure a consistent pace while also allowing enough time for teams to make changes on the fly.

“As long as the defense has time to make substitutions on each play, then align and play,” Candeloro said.

While this rule could impact how teams run their systems, especially on offense, it will help the competitive balance while also making sure the game moves at a smooth pace.

“We try to run a controlled no huddle, so this would not affect us and how we play offense,”
Smith said. “Defensively, if we play a no huddle team, we have to make sure that we are
cognizant of the package changes and substitute accordingly.”