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  • Football Rules Changes - 2022

    By NFHS on February 17, 2022


    1-2-3g NOTES 3. (NEW): Team Box May Be Extended By State Association Adoption
    By state association adoption, the team box may now be extended beyond the 25-yard line.

    1-3-3: Ball May Be Changed Between Downs
    Any game official may order the ball changed between downs.

    1-4-3: The Number “0” Is Now Legal
    The single digit number “0” is now a legal number.

    2-3-8: A Chop Block Has Been Redefined
    A chop block has been redefined as an illegal combination block where contact is made above and below the waist.

    3-4-7: Clarified The Offended Team’s Game Clock Options
    Clarified the offended team’s game clock options following a foul committed with less than two minutes remaining in either half.

    3-6-1a(1)e EXCEPTION 2. (NEW): Added A New Exception To The Play Clock Administration
    Added a new exception to the play clock administration following a foul committed only by the defensive team.

    7-5-2 EXCEPTION 2. (NEW): Added A New Exception For The Passer
    Added a new exception that allows the passer to legally throw the ball away to conserve yardage.


    2-28-2; 5-2-4; 6-2-6; 10-2-2; 10-2-3; FOOTBALL FUNDAMENTALS – VII-2, X-3-E; RESOLVING TIED GAMES – 5-1-1, 8-3; NINE-, EIGHT- AND SIX-PLAYER RULES DIFFERENCES – RULE 2 and 7


    1. Targeting / Defenseless Player
    2. Legal Uniforms and Equipment
    3. Sportsmanship
  • Football Rules Changes - 2021

    By NFHS on May 27, 2021

    Action in the Free-Blocking Zone [2-17-2c (NEW), 2-17-4]
    Blocking below the waist now requires the block to begin immediately following the snap.



    1. Sportsmanship
    2. Intentional Grounding
    3. Ineligible Downfield and Line of Scrimmage Formation
  • Football Rules Changes - 2020

    By NFHS on April 02, 2020


    Defining Team Designated Representative for Penalty Decisions [1-4-1, 1-4-4 (NEW), 2-32-5, 3-5-2, 10-1-1, 10-1-2, 10-2-4] — Prior to the game, the head coach will notify the referee of the designated representative (coach or player) who will make decisions regarding penalty acceptance or declination.

    Halftime Intermission Option Following Weather Delay [3-1-6c EXCEPTION (NEW)] — The halftime intermission may be shortened by mutual agreement of opposing coaches if a weather delay occurs during the last three minutes of the second period.

    40-Second Play Clock Clarification [3-6-1a(1)e EXCEPTIONS 2 and 3 (NEW)] — To eliminate a potential timing advantage gained by the defensive team, the rules committee approved the play clock being set to 40 seconds when an officials’ time-out is taken for an injury to a defensive player or a defensive player has an equipment issue.

    25-Second Play Clock Clarification [3-6-1a(1)f (NEW)] — Following a legal kick when either team is awarded a new series, the play clock will be set to 25 seconds.

    Disconcerting Act Foul and Penalty Reclassified [7-1-9 (NEW), 7-1-9 PENALTY (NEW)] — Disconcerting acts or words by the defense has been reclassified from a unsportsmanlike foul to a disconcerting act foul, and the penalty changed from 15 yards to 5 yards.

    Spiking the Ball to Conserve Time (7-5-2e EXCEPTION, TABLE 7-5-2e EXCEPTION, TABLE 7-5e EXCEPTION) — The exception to allow a player to conserve time by intentionally throwing the ball forward to the ground immediately after receiving the snap, has been expanded to include any player positioned directly behind the center. This exception now includes snaps that are not hand-to-hand.


    NOCSAE Warning Label, 1-3-1d and g, 1-3-1i (NEW), Table 1-7, 2-33-2, 2-41-9, 3-1-6 (NEW), 3-1-7 (NEW), Table 3-1, 3-4-8, 3-4-9 (NEW), 7-2-5a, 7-5-12, Table 7-5, 8-2-4, 9-5-1d, 9-9 PENALTY, 10-4-2 EXCEPTION, 10-5-1j, Penalty Summary, Official Signal 17 (NEW) and 23, Appendix H (NEW), Index 


    1. Sportsmanship
    2. Intentional Grounding
    3. Ineligible Downfield and Line of Scrimmage Formation
  • 2019 Rules Changes

    New 40 Second Play Clock Rule V2.pdf

    2019 NFHS Football Rules PowerPoint-NY.pptx

    NYSACFO June 2019 Meeting (6-15-19).pptx

    2019 Instructions for Ball Persons.pdf





    2018        POINTS OF EMPHASIS

    1.         Proper Wearing and Use of Required Equipment

    2.         Blindside Blocks and Defenseless Player

    3.         Application of Personal Fouls and Unsportsmanlike Conduct

    4.         Time Management


    1-5-4, 1-5-5, 3-5-10e (NEW) 3-6-2, 9-9: Improperly equipped player shall be replaced for at least one down.

    Rationale: Prior to the game, the head coach is responsible for verifying that the players are legally equipped and will not use illegal equipment. The penalty for a player who is not properly equipped has changed from a distance penalty against the team to removal of that player for at least one down. The penalty provisions for any use of illegal equipment remain unchanged and result in an unsportsmanlike conduct foul charged to the head coach.

    2-32-16a: Defenseless player provisions for passer clarified.

    Rationale: The committee clarified that defenseless player provisions do not apply to a passer until a legal forward pass is thrown. The passer continues to be a defenseless player until the pass ends or the passer moves to participate in the play.

    6-1-3b PENALTY, 6-1-4 PENALTY: Signal change for free kick infractions.

    Rationale: The signal for free kick infractions, other than encroachment of the neutral zone, has been changed from signal 18 to signal 19.

    6-1-9b (NEW), 6-1-9b PENALTY (NEW), 10-4-2 EXCEPTION (NEW), 10-5-1j (NEW): New penalty option adopted for fouls by kicking team.

    Rationale: In an effort to reduce re-kicks, further minimize risk and ensure that appropriate penalties are in place for all fouls, the committee has added an option for fouls committed by the kicking team during free and scrimmage kicks. The change would allow the receiving team all of the previous options as well as accepting the distance penalty at the end of the down.



    Ball on the Tic Summary.pdf

    New 40 Second Play Clock Rule.pdf


    1.         Responsibility on Players to Avoid Illegal Contact

    2.         Illegal Helmet Contact

    3.         Sideline Management and Control, Professional Communication

                 Between Coaches and Game Officials

    4.         Proper Enforcement of Penalties for Violations of the Equipment Rules

    1-3-1h (NEW): Added that commercial advertising is not permitted on the ball.

    Rationale: The ball cannot have commercial advertising added to the surface. The only permissible items on the ball are the ball manufacturer’s name and/or logo; school name, logo and/or mascot; conference name and/or logo; state association name and/or logos; and NFHS name and/or logos.

    1-5-1b(3): Further clarifies that the jersey of the home team shall be a dark color clearly contrasting to the white jersey required for the visiting team.

    Rationale: Home game jersey specifications were further revised to provide schools and manufacturers additional clarification regarding the current trend of utilizing lighter gray shades. The implementation date of 2021 affords schools and manufacturers the opportunity to ensure that newer dark-colored jerseys will clearly contrast with white jerseys. The requirement for contrasting colors to white is not a new rule, and this new clarification will allow changes to be made during normal replacement cycles.

    1-5-1a(2) NOTE, 1-5-4: This change now permits any of the game officials to accompany the referee to meet with the head coach for equipment verification.

    Rationale: Member state associations may determine the game official who is to accompany the referee during the required pre-game meeting with each head coach.

    2-3-10 (NEW), 9-4-3n (NEW), 9-4 PENALTY: Added a new definition for a blindside block and specifies a penalty for an illegal blindside block.

    Rationale: Continuing with the focus on risk minimization, the committee created a definition for a blindside block. This block involves contact by a blocker against an opponent who, because of physical positioning and focus of concentration, is vulnerable to injury. Unless initiated with open hands, it is a foul for excessive and unnecessary contact when the block is forceful and outside of the free-blocking zone.

    2-16-2h: Clarified that illegal participation fouls by the receiving team occurring during the kick are now enforced under post-scrimmage kick fouls.



  • 2016 Points of Emphasis

    1. Risk Minimization

    2. Legal and Illegal Blocks

    3. Legal Jerseys, Pants and Pads

    4. Unfair Acts

    1-5-1d(5)a: Further clarified the required specifications for the tooth and mouth protector.

    Rationale: Completely clear or completely white tooth and mouth protectors are no longer prohibited. Tooth and mouth protectors shall include an occlusal (protecting and separating the biting surfaces) portion and include a labial (protecting the teeth and supporting structures) portion.

    1-5 NOTE; 1-5-2b: Added the new Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) football glove specification to the existing rule.

    Rationale: Football gloves are now required to meet either the new SFIA specification or the existing NOCSAE test standard at the time of manufacture.

    2-17; 9-3-6; 9-3 PENALTY: Clipping in the free-blocking is now illegal.

    Rationale: In a continued effort to minimize risk, the Committee made clipping in the free-blocking  zone illegal. Clipping is now illegal anywhere on the field at any time.



Signal_animation.gifPractice by naming each signal in sequence.


3 Man Mechanics Presentation


5 Man Mechanics Presentation


Clock Operator Do's and Don'ts





Football Rules Changes - 2015


SPEARING DEFINITION REVISED (2-20-1c): Continuing the focus of risk minimization, the definition for the illegal helmet contact act of spearing was revised. Spearing is an act by any player who initiates contact against an opponent at the shoulders or below with the crown (top portion) of his/her helmet.


CORRECTING A DOWN NUMBER ADDED (5-1-1b NEW): The referee is granted authorization to correct the number of the next down before a new series of downs is awarded.


FREE-KICK FORMATIONS REVISED (6-1-3; 6-1-4 NEW; 6-1 PENALTY): In a revision of the 2014 rule change regarding free-kick formations, the timing of the foul for not having at least four players on each side of the kicker now occurs when the ball is kicked.


EXCESSIVE CONTACT ADDED TO UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS (9-4-3g): With an emphasis on risk minimization, the unnecessary roughness provisions were expanded. No player or nonplayer shall make any other contact with an opponent, including a defenseless player, which is deemed unnecessary or excessive and which incites roughness.


ROUGHING THE PASSER PENALTY CLARIFIED (9-4 PENALTY): An automatic first down is not awarded for a 5-yard incidental face mask penalty against the passer.


DEAD-BALL PENALTY ENFORCEMENT MODIFIED (10-2-5): The distance penalty for unsportsmanlike, nonplayer or dead-ball personal fouls committed by teams can offset. Equal numbers of 15-yard penalties by both teams will cancel and remaining penalties may be enforced.







High School Football Rules Changes Continue Focus on Risk Minimization


In its ongoing effort to minimize the risk of injury in high school football, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Football Rules Committee expanded the provisions of unnecessary roughness to include contact with a defenseless player.


This revision in Rule 9-4-3g was one of six rules changes recommended by the Football Rules Committee at its January 23-25 meeting in Indianapolis. These changes were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.


The revised rule now reads, “No player or non-player shall make any contact with an opponent, including a defenseless player, which is deemed unnecessary or excessive and which incites roughness.”


Bob Colgate, director of sports and sports medicine at the NFHS and editor of the NFHS football rules, noted that an example would be when a defensive player who is not in the vicinity of the ball is “blindsided” by a blocker on the offensive team.


Another change with a focus on risk minimization is a revision of the spearing rule – one of several examples of illegal helmet contact listed in Rule 2-20. Spearing is now defined as “an act by any player who initiates contact against an opponent at the shoulders or below with the crown (top portion) of his helmet.”


With “targeting” now defined as contact to an opponent above the shoulders, the committee more clearly defined “spearing” as contact to an opponent at the shoulders or below. Colgate said the implementation of the first spearing rule in 1971 has played a significant role in reducing injury in high school football.


“The committee spent considerable time discussing and clarifying expectations related to contact involving any player that is deemed excessive or unnecessary – including spearing – that may occur during play,” said Brad Garrett, chair of the NFHS Football Rules Committee and assistant executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association. “Minimizing risks to players involved in these situations must remain at the forefront of the game.”


In other changes, the rules committee revised the 2014 rule change regarding free-kick formations. A new Rule 6-1-4 was added to state that the timing of the foul for not having at least four players on each side of the kicker now occurs when the ball is kicked.


A change also was made in the listing of penalties in Rule 9-4, Illegal Personal Contact. Beginning next season, an automatic first down will not be awarded for a 5-yard incidental face mask penalty against the passer. Previously, this violation was included in the penalty for roughing the passer, which calls for a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down.


The rules committee also approved new language in Rule 10-2-5 regarding the enforcement of dead-ball fouls. The distance penalty for unsportsmanlike, non-player or dead-ball personal fouls committed by teams can offset. Equal numbers of 15-yard penalties by both teams will cancel and remaining penalties may be enforced.


The final change approved by the Football Rules Committee related to a series of downs. A new Rule 5-1-1b will read as follows: “The referee shall have authority to correct the number of the next down prior to a new series of downs being awarded.”


A complete listing of all rules changes is available on the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org. Click on “Activities & Sports” at the top of the home page, and select “Football.”


According to the 2013-14 NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey, football is the most popular sport for boys at the high school level with 1,093,234 participants in 11-player football. Another 28,790 boys participated in 6-, 8- and 9-player football. In addition, 1,828 girls participated in football during the 2013-14 season.






Football Game Officials Manual Points of Emphasis - 2014-2015




A primary goal of the NFHS Football Rules Committee continues to be keeping the game of scholastic football as safe as possible. In doing such, a more diligent approach to player safety must be adhered to by all game officials, players, coaches and administrators in order to achieve this goal.


Unsafe acts and techniques cannot be tolerated by those administering and participating in the game of football. Coaches and game officials must act proactively and decisively to eliminate, to the greatest extent possible, threats to the welfare of the student-athletes playing football. Fundamental adherence to current and newly-adopted rules is absolutely required to eliminate negative effects that committing unsafe acts and techniques has placed on our game. Participants must be made aware of unsafe techniques and refrain from their use. Those responsible for the administration of high school football need to exercise leadership and active supervision of the player safety aspects of the game.


We must recommit ourselves to the preservation of fair play which includes admonishing illegal acts both on the practice field and the field of play. Unwarranted and unnecessary “punishing” of an opponent has become a style of play which is specifically condemned. Illegal helmet contact is an act of initiating contact with the helmet against an opponent and remains a major safety concern in our sport.


The No.1 responsibility for game officials must be player safety. Any initiation of contact with the helmet is illegal; therefore, it must be penalized consistently and without warning. An enhanced approach to player safety is really a matter of attitude, technique, attention and supervision.


Some examples of fouls that merit our extra attention are launching, fouls against players obviously out of the play, helmet-to-helmet contact and fouls against defenseless players. No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet, and no player shall target and initiate contact to the area above the shoulders of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder. The launch occurs when a player takes a running start, leaves his feet and uses the helmet to strike the opponent or by crouching and using an upward and forward thrust of the body to make contact above the shoulders of an opponent. It is an extremely dangerous maneuver to both players involved and deserves strict penalty and possible disqualification enforcement if flagrant. The game official must draw distinction between contact necessary to make a legal block or tackle, and that which targets a defenseless player.


The NFHS Game Officials Manual Committee believes that renewed emphasis on getting illegal acts out of the game will greatly improve player safety and preserve the great game of football.




Blocking below the waist is an occurrence that is governed by very specific rules and definitions. It is vital that game officials understand when a block below the waist is legal as noted in the definition of the free-blocking zone. The free-blocking zone is defined as a rectangular area extending 4 yards to either side of the spot of the snap and 3 yards behind each line of scrimmage. The following must occur in order for a player to legally block an opponent below the waist:

1. Both players must be lined up in the free-blocking zone at the snap.

2. Both players must be on the line of scrimmage at the snap.

3. The block must occur in the free-blocking zone.

4. The ball must remain in the free-blocking zone.

It is important for game officials and coaches to remember these requirements in a variety of situations and apply them equally to both the offense and the defense. Any player may block below the waist as long as the above requirements are met.


Due to the prevalence of the shotgun formation, more and more quarterbacks are positioned outside the free-blocking zone. In this formation the ball can leave the free-blocking zone very quickly. In order for any player to legally block below the waist when the offense is in this formation, the block must be initiated immediately following the snap and without hesitation. If the offensive player sets or pauses for any period of time, the opportunity to legally block below the waist has been eliminated.




Football is a game of rhythm. Referees can do a lot to facilitate a game’s rhythm by being consistent with the ready-for-play signal. This is called “Pace” or “Tempo.” If an officiating crew is consistent in the way it gets the ball in play, the game flow will be enhanced.


Pace or tempo should be consistent throughout the game from the opening play until the final whistle. Teams may want to play a “hurry-up” offense or do a two-minute drill. That should not affect the pace or tempo set by the referee and their crew. Teams have to work within the established pace. Doing something different in the last two minutes can be unfair to a team’s opponent. If a team wants to get more snaps, it has to work within the established pace of the game.


On regular scrimmage plays, the general recommendation is to sound the ready 3-5 seconds after the ball is placed. This does two things: keeps the game moving and gets teams thinking about their strategy. On change-of-possession plays, the signal should be delayed until substitutions are moving into position, but this, too, should be consistent. Referees should not wait to determine if offenses are huddled on a sideline, but sound the ready when the crew is set for the next play. Many times the teams are waiting for the whistle in order to come onto the field.


Referees are encouraged to give the ready while standing in full sight of clock operators at a distance of 10-12 yards from the ball.


The best rule for ready for play consistency is whether the crew is ready to officiate. Once a referee gets into a rhythm, so does the rest of the crew – and so do the teams.


Officiating crews can be a positive factor in the flow of the game by keeping a consistent pace.




The NFHS Game Officials Manual Committee has again decided to readjust kickoff mechanics. With the implementation of new rules regarding free kick alignment restrictions by K, Rules 6-1-3b and 6-1-3c, the committee has decided to reemphasize game officials’ positioning. The committee felt that reverting back to the 2010-2011 kickoff mechanics is better for overall field coverage. More kickoffs are long rather than short. With the application of these new rules, repositioning game officials on kickoffs should help with a better view and field coverage.


The referee will need to be positioned at the goal line, somewhere between the center of the field and the hash mark, toward the head linesman’s side of the field. This allows the referee to be able to observe and determine the free kick alignment of K at the time of the kick (6-1-3b). The umpire is positioned at the 20-yard line, outside the field of play opposite the referee. The head linesman is positioned at the 30-yard line on his respective sideline outside the field of play. The line judge is on his particular sideline at the 50-yard line, outside the field of play, being aware of encroachment by R and watching for illegal blocks following the kick. During the interval, when the back judge hands the ball to K, the back judge may assist the kicking team with their alignment restrictions. This includes making sure there are at least four K players on each side of the ball and making sure K players are not more than 5 yards behind the 5 yard belt area from where the ball is being kicked (6-1-3c). The back judge will then be positioned at the K free-kick line on the head linesman’s side of the field, outside the field of play. The back judge will need to be aware of illegal formation and encroachment by K (Dead Ball) as well as blocking restrictions by K following the kick. If an onside kick is anticipated, the head linesman and umpire move up to R’s free-kick line. The back judge and line judge cover K’s free-kick line. The referee still has deep coverage.






1999-2014 NFHS Football Rules Changes

2000-2014 NFHS Football Rules Interpretations

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