With the 2019 high school football season only days away from kicking off, it is a good time to take a look at how new National Federation of High School (NFHS) and Georgia High School Association (GHSA) rules may make the game look a little different for players, coaches, and fans.
NFHS released the new 2019 rules in May, including a rule allowing states to adopt video review in playoff games. GHSA declined to adopt video replay for the upcoming season but will be implementing several other changes.
The GHSA Executive Committee also adopted seven-person officiating crews for the state playoffs and has approved the use of seven-person crews for the regular season based on school requests.
James Arnold of the local GHSA Etowah Valley Football Officials Association recently went over some of the changes for Bartow Sports Zone while Keith Hammond of Georgia Football Officials Association recently shared commentary on the new rules with Georgia High School Football Daily.
The most obvious change for fans will be the adoption of a new 40-second play clock rule.
The purpose is to have a more consistent time period between downs. In the past, the referee blew a whistle once the ball was marked ready for play and there was a 25-second play clock. The new rules define when 40 seconds will be placed on the play clock and when it will remain 25 seconds.
“The game will be quicker,” said Arnold. “The pace of the game will no longer be determined by the Referee chopping in the “ready for play signal.”
"Each week, a team gets different officials for their contest,” Hammond told GHSFD. “In the past, some crews may work faster than others, so the time between plays may vary. The prior plan was to try and have the ball ready for play within 12-15 seconds. Over the course of game, if one crew was consistently at 12 seconds and another at 15 and your team wanted to get 80 snaps on offense, you are potentially talking about another 240 seconds or four minutes of difference in game play. That could be quite a difference from week to week, especially in a close game. This rule change will provide consistent timing and prevent those differences,” Hammond continued.
"The biggest distinction the typical fan may notice will be the reduction in the number of whistles that the referee will have to blow over the course of a game. There will be fewer ready-for-play whistles signifying a 25-second play clock to begin its countdown. For example, a three-yard run where the ball carrier is tackled will trigger the 40-second clock after the play ends. In fact, most plays, both runs and passes, will do the same. The 25-second clock will be in effect after items such as penalty administration, time-outs, measurements, scores, legal kicks or the start of each period.
"There are procedures in place for schools that do or do not have the play clock at their home playing sites. For those with such a clock, a separate official known as the PCO or play clock operator will be employed to run the clock. For those without, the field judge in a six-man crew will operate the play clock from his position, or if a seven-man crew is utilized, the play clock is run by the back judge.
"Officials have been studying and training with the new timing change since the spring, as many began utilizing it in those games held at the end of spring practice. In all cases, the 40-second play clock should provide a new consistency to the high school game in Georgia for 2019,” Hammond concluded.
Arnold pointed out a distinct difference, however, between the college and pro game with the new high school rule.
“In high school there are no match-up rules. That means when the crew sets the ball down and the crew is ready, the ball can be snapped. For example, if there are late offensive substitutions, the defense gets no extra time to match up,” Arnold added.
Other rules adopted by NFHS and GHSA for 2019 include:
— Improved visibility of numbers: To help officials and fans 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 2024, jersey numbers must be a single solid color that clearly contrasts with the body color of the jersey. The delayed implementation of the rule allows schools to use uniforms they've already purchased.
“This does away with the low visibility numbers and the multi-colored uniforms that have made identification of players difficult on the playing field,” said Arnold.
— Redefined requirements for a legal formation: A legal offensive scrimmage formation now requires at least five players on the line with no more than four backs. This change will make it easier to identify legal and illegal formations.
“This rule does away with the formations that require seven men on the line of scrimmage,” noted Arnold. “The rule now states that you can have no more than four players in the backfield — like the NCAA rule — but you must have the five linemen in jerseys numbered 50-79 in a regular (non-punting) formation. Teams can now snap the ball with less than seven on the line of scrimmage.”
— Prohibition on tripping the runner: 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.
“This was a dangerous play that has now been made illegal,” noted Arnold. “I don’t think any of us want to get hit in the shins by a defender whipping his leg. We didn’t see a lot of it, but it was a dangerous play that has now been addressed.”
— Illegal kicking and batting penalty reduced: The penalty for illegally kicking or batting the ball was reduced to 10 yards from 15.
“This is a change that simply puts illegal kicking and batting the ball in line with any other illegal touching that was reduced to a 10-yard penalty a couple of years ago,” said Arnold.
— Horse-collar tackle addition: 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 a personal contact foul.
“This was another dangerous play that will make the job for officials a little simpler,” Arnold pointed out. “The new rule takes out a lot of guessing for the official surrounding this type of play. Tacklers can no longer pull down a player from high on the back of the jersey. The belief is this rule will help reduce knee injuries on ball carriers.”
The NFHS also released its 2019 Points of Emphasis this past Spring. The two areas of note include the free-blocking zone and legal blocking along with proper procedures for weather delays.
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-blocking zone provided that certain conditions are met.
Offensive and defensive linemen may block each other below the waist in the free-blocking zone provided that 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 of scrimmage 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 as long as the blocker is on his line of scrimmage and in the free-blocking zone at the snap, the opponent 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, game officials 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 is using “normal” splits and the formation is “balanced” (i.e., the distance between the outside foot of each lineman and the inside foot of the adjacent linemen is no greater than 2 feet and an equal number of linemen are on each side of the snapper), all players, including the tight end, are deemed to be in the zone at the snap. If the splits are wider than 2 feet, the tight end is considered out of the zone and therefore cannot legally block below the waist or in the back.
Once game officials determine which players are in the zone at the snap, the next determination is whether a block below the waist or a block in the back occurs in the free-blocking zone. Because the free-blocking zone disintegrates once the ball leaves the zone, it may be difficult to determine whether the ball is in the zone at the time the block occurs when the offense is using a “shotgun” formation (a formation where there is no direct hand-to-hand snap 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 alert to defenders “cutting” running backs and wide receivers who are not on their line of scrimmage or in the free-blocking zone at the snap. Restrictions on blocking below the waist apply equally to offensive and defensive players. Finally, offensive players in the backfield can never legally block below the waist or in the back.
Proper Procedures for Weather Delays
At some point during the high school football season, many parts of the country have to address 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 lightning seen or thunder heard); and when a suspension or delay occurs, the teams are sent to a safe, sheltered area until the weather situation has ended. NFHS guidelines on handling lightning and thunder delays require use of the 30-minute rule, meaning when the game has been suspended, play cannot resume until at least 30 minutes have elapsed following the last sighting of lightning or the sound of thunder. Once the game is suspended, each further instance of lightning or thunder requires a reset of the clock and the commencement of a new 30-minute interval.
Seldom is there a problem with game officials or site administrators following the basic 30-minute rule when there is lightning or thunder. However, some game officials and administrators are not abiding by the mandatory halftime intermission and warm-up rule when there is a lightning delay near the end of the first half. If there is such a delay late in the second period, once the second period is completed, NFHS playing rules require a halftime intermission of at least 10 minutes followed by the required 3-minute warm-up period before the third period may begin. Coaches or game officials cannot shorten the halftime intermission 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 delay as soon as the mandatory warm-up period is completed.
It is important for game officials, coaches and administrators to be aware of the halftime intermission and warm-up rules on nights when the weather could present delays and to administer those NFHS football rules correctly.
The four local schools — Adairsville, Cartersville, Cass, and Woodland — begin 2019 play with scrimmages Friday, August 16.
The scrimmages include: Dalton at Cartersville, Cass at Pepperell, and Woodland at Adairsville.
The regular season begins for three teams Friday, August 23 when Adairsville plays at Chattooga, Cartersville travels to Allatoona, and Woodland hosts Southeast Whitfield.
Cass does not play on August 23 but the Colonels will launch their 2019 campaign at Adairsville August 30.
WBHF-Cartersville (100.3FM / AM1450) and BartowSportsZone.com will combine to broadcast 23 regular season games this season and any state playoff games involving local teams.
On August 23, WBHF will carry the Cartersville at Allatoona contest. The Southeast Whitfield at Woodland game will be live via BartowSportsZone.com. We will also have live updates on both formats from the Adairsville game at Chattooga.
Since both Woodland and Cartersville are idle on August 30, WBHF will broadcast the Cass opener with Adairsville.
The remainder of the 2019 regular season broadcast schedule includes:
DATE -------------- WBHF ------------------------------------ *BartowSportsZone.com
Aug. 23 Cartersville at Allatoona SE Whitfield at Woodland
Aug. 30 Cass at Adairsville — no broadcast —
Sept. 6 Luella at Cartersville Forsyth Central at Cass
Sept. 13 McNair at Cartersville Cass at Woodland
Sept. 20 Cartersville at Cherokee Haralson Co. at Adairsville
Sept. 27 Cedartown at Cartersville Hiram at Woodland
Oct. 4 Cartersville at Central-Carroll LFO at Adairsville
Oct. 11 Cartersville at LaGrange Hiram at Cass
Oct. 18 Sandy Creek at Cartersville Sonoraville at Adairsville
Oct. 25 Chapel Hill at Cartersville Kell at Cass
Nov. 1 Woodland at East Paulding Ringgold at Adairsville
Nov. 8 Cartersville at Troup Co. Kell at Woodland
Nov. 15 State Playoffs Begin
*BSZ broadcast schedule is subject to change with playoff implications
Pregame coverage begins each week with the Bartow Sports Zone radio show each Friday morning from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on WBHF. The show features live interviews with two of the four head football coaches each week.
Pregame coverage continues at 6 p.m. on WBHF and BartowSportsZone.com and continues until kickoff at the stadiums at 7:30 p.m.
Post-game coverage on WBHF picks up following the conclusion of our play-by-play broadcasts and continues until 11 p.m. or later each Friday of the season.