George Guido: 40-second play clock ‘most substantial’ new rule in H.S. football

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019 | 5:36 PM


The implementation of a 40-second play clock is the most significant change to high school football this season.

It’s one of seven rules revisions recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations and approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

The 40-second clock for the next play will start as soon as a play is whistled dead by an official. Up to now, the 25-second play clock began as soon as an official set the ball on the field and gave the ready-for-play signal.

Even when a long pass attempt is incomplete, players will have to scurry back to their respective huddles. It also impacts teams whose quarterbacks go over to the sideline and receive the play from a coach.

Not all high school fields have play clocks in the end zones, so teams will still have to rely on a back judge who raises his hand with five seconds left before a play must begin.

There are still a handful of cases where the 25-second play clock will remain; prior to a conversion attempt; starting a quarter or an overtime series; following an inadvertent whistle; following a charged timeout; following some officials’ timeouts and following a clock stoppage by an official.

“This is one of the most substantial game administrative rules changes to be approved within the last 10 years,” said Todd Tharp, assistant director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association and chair of the NFHS Football Rules Committee.

Tharp went on to say that “several state associations have experimented” with the 40-second clock over the past three seasons.

Replay arrives (kind of)

Another big change is to permit individual states to use instant replay for state postseason games.

This revision would allow game or replay officials to use a replay monitor to review on-field decisions.

Each state has to adopt replay, and the PIAA has not done so.

Other changes

Here are the other approved changes:

• A legal scrimmage formation now requires at least five offensive players on the line of scrimmage with no more than four backs. This change will make it easier to identify legal and illegal offensive formations.

• In an effort to decrease risk, tripping the runner is prohibited. It is a foul to intentionally use the lower leg or foot to obstruct a runner below the knees.

• The penalty for illegally kicking or batting the ball was reduced from 15 yards to 10 yards.

• An addition was made to the outlawing of horse-collar tackles. Now, grabbing the nameplate area of the jersey of the runner, directly below the back collar, and pulling the runner to the ground is an illegal personal contact foul.

• The free-blocking zone has been further clarified. It 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.

Offensive and defensive linemen may block below the waist provided all players involved in the blocking are on their line of scrimmage and 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.

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