Youth Football Rule Changes
Coaches have seen lots of youth football rule changes the last few years and those changes continue to come down the pike. This week the National Federation of State High School Associations, the governing body of high school sports, for all US States but Texas and Massachusetts made some changes in their rules to make the game safer. Some of the rules changes are minor and enforceable, while other change the game almost to its core.
Let’s start out with the easy ones- Onside kicks where the kicker kicks the ball hard into the dirt to get a big bounce into that first row on the kick return team are no longer allowed. Also banned were the peel back blindside block. The verbiage is now “A hit on any player who is not carrying the ball and “does not see the blocker approaching,” is now punished with a 15-yard penalty. Such a hit, Rule 9-4-3n states, “involves contact by a blocker against an opponent who, because of physical positioning and focus of concentration, is vulnerable to injury.”
A blindside hit is legal if it is initiated with “open hands”. So those crushing open field blocks will no longer be allowed as would most crack back style blocks on Defensive Ends or Outside Linebackers.
These Youth Football Rules Changes I’m Ok With
I have no issue with either of these rule changes. While I’m a fan of the onside kick and have seen many successful youth football teams use the crack back block to seal the edge, I understand why they made these changes, for player safety. I’ve personally never seen a player seriously injured due to this type of onside kick, I have seen a few kids take a nasty lick on a crack back or peel back block in the open field. These penalties will be easy to spot and simple to enforce.
As most of us have seen referees have been calling fouls already when contact is made with a “defenseless player”, or they have called unnecessary roughness, both are 15 yard fouls. This has been a point of emphasis for the last two years.
I’m No Fan of These Youth Football Rules Changes
What I’m not comfortable at all with is how a defenseless player is now defined as of this week. The rule changes uses these definitions of defenseless players:
- A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass. I’m against this one. Sometimes the defender has left his feet or has so much momentum, that even if he tries to stop, it’s next to impossible. Referees today do a great job of protecting the QB and throw plenty of roughing the passer calls now. Leave it to the discretion of the referee like they do now.
- A receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not had time to clearly become a runner. This one I’m against, see below.
- The intended receiver of a pass in the action during and immediately following an interception or potential interception. I’m on the fence on this one.
- A runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped. (wouldn’t a competent referee blow the ball dead here so any hit would be after the whistle and be worthy of an unnecessary roughness call?) But under this rule my 9 year old player has to discern if the forward progress has been stopped or is that running back going to carry the pile into the endzone?
- A kickoff or punt returner attempting to catch or recover a kick, or one who has completed a catch or recovery and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier
- A player on the ground including a ball carrier who has obviously given himself up and is sliding feet-first. OK I’m fine with this one.
- A player obviously out of the play or not in the immediate vicinity of the runner. NOT a fan of, see below.
These youth football rules changes if they are enforced, DRAMATICALLY change the game. We’ve already seen referees calling penalties on contact away from the play. Now they are saying any contact with a player obviously out of the play and not in the immediate vicinity of the runner can’t be blocked. What I want to know is how do my offensive linemen who have both of their eyes on their blocking target know where the ball is????? They are trained to block their assignment to the whistle- how would my offensive lineman even know where the ball was when he is in the middle of blocking his assigned target? And how would a referee know when a player is really out of a play or not? If you have a speedster player on defense and your running back doesn’t have great speed, that defensive speedster isn’t out of the play until the back has crossed the goal line.
This is another one I don’t get. Now the rule is that a receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not had time to clearly become a runner is a “defenseless” player. So when a receiver is trying to make a catch but doesn’t quite have the ball seated is defenseless. The new rule states that he can’t be contacted with anything but hands. By that definition obviously you can’t separate the ball from the receiver by contact, I’m not even sure you could contest the catch with anything other than hands.
How will this all be enforced? I envision games being stopped by penalties for nearly every snap. Two hour games, forgetaboutit, expect three. I’m all for making the game reasonable and safe, but these new rules are too much. There I said it, now throw me under the bus and call me a knuckle dragging Neanderthal.
We all realize that youth football has a perception and PR problem. The facts are any sport or activity has risks and by most accounts youth football is safer today than it has been at any point in history. Some of the ways the rules committee chose to address these issues just go too far and are nearly impossible to enforce with any degree of consistency.