Countdown to kickoff 2022: Rule change impacts intentional grounding calls

Wednesday, August 3, 2022 | 8:07 PM

Many fans may think they are experts on the rules of high school football, making sure everybody in their section knows when they have witnessed a “bad call.”

While we don’t condone that behavior, we do think it’s important to study up on the rules of the scholastic game before offering loud opinions that may or may not be accurate.

There are seven rule changes for the 2022 football season. Some are minute and more aesthetic than anything else. Others are somewhat significant as administrators and officials continue their efforts to provide a safe game for all of participants.

These rules were recommended by the National Federation of High Schools and approved by the PIAA.

• Added a new exception to intentional grounding that allows the passer to legally throw the ball away to conserve yardage as long as the passer is outside the blocking box and the pass goes beyond the line of scrimmage.

• A chop block has been redefined as an illegal combination block where contact is made above and below the waist.

• When a foul is committed with less than two minutes remaining in either half, the offended team has the option to start the game clock on the snap.

• Added a new exception to the play clock administration following a foul committed only by the defensive team, allowing the play clock for the offense to be set for 40 seconds.

• The team sideline box may now be extended beyond the 25-yard line. The extension must be the same for both teams.

• Any game official may order the ball changed between downs.

• The single-digit number zero is now a legal number. The number double zero is still not legal.

John Yerage is about to begin his 39th year as a football official, 32 as an umpire and the last seven as a referee. He is also president of the Lawrence County chapter of PIAA officials.

Yerage offers a more thorough explanation on the three biggest rules changes for this season.

Rule 1: Expanded exception to intentional grounding rule

“I believe this is a long overdue rule change. Changes in rules usually start at the top, and then trickle down to the high school level. Intentional grounding is what I refer to as a “crew call” most times. In other words, more than one official is involved in determining intentional grounding. One of the side officials will drop his flag to indicate a potential intentional grounding. That official will then confer with the referee (the official wearing the white hat) to determine whether the quarterback was under duress at the time he threw the football. In years past, the side official would drop his flag after determining that an eligible receiver did not occupy the area of the field where the pass was thrown.

“With the rule change for the 2022 season, the referee makes the judgement with regard to the tackle box. As a standard, the referees in the WPIAL/City are using three steps as a gauge, meaning if the quarterback moves left or right three steps from where he received the snap, he is outside the tackle box. Determination of the quarterback’s position at the time of the throw is the referee’s judgement. The side officials need to determine if the thrown pass lands behind or beyond the line of scrimmage. If the pass lands beyond the line of scrimmage, the side official will not drop his flag. If the pass lands behind the line of scrimmage, the side official will drop his flag. The side official no longer has to judge whether an eligible receiver occupied the area where the pass was thrown.

“The beauty of this rule change is that most of the judgement on the part of the officials is now taken away. This is now a much easier call for the officials to make or not make. The only judgement is on the referee to determine if the quarterback broke the tackle box before throwing the pass.”

Rule 2: Chop Block

“This is another rule change geared toward player safety, which is always paramount in the mind of a football official when he or she takes the field. The chop block, as defined previously, is a very dangerous block to the player it is executed against and could cause knee and ankle injury. The definition of a chop block did not change. A chop block is a combination block by two or more teammates against an opponent, with or without delay, where one block is high and the other is low.

“The determination of high versus low is the rule change. Previous to 2022, the opponent’s knee previously determined high and low. With the rule change, the opponent’s waist determines high and low. This change allows the player being blocked much more recognition that a potential chop block is being executed against him and allows him more ability to defend himself against the chop block. The waist is also a much clearer cut determination for the official with regard to deciding what a chop block is. With the 2021 rule change, which stated that all low blocks must be immediate at the snap, the chop block is much less likely to be successful, thus coaches will likely abandon the teaching process of the chop block.”

Rule 3: Game clock options in the last two minutes of a half

“Any foul committed by the defense in the last two minutes of either half allows the offended team to have the game clock started on the snap, whether the penalty is accepted or not. Prior to 2022, the option to start the next down on the snap was available to the offended team on an accepted penalty.”

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