ID Organization Name Type
105775 aso Other

Points of Emphasis

Monday, September 3, 2012
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2012 NFHS Football Points of Emphasis

Every year, the NFHS includes several Points of Emphasis in the football rules book that they expect officials to discuss with coaches, and observe closely during games. For 2012, the points are:

  • Concussions, Contact to and with the helmet, Helmet technology, and Proper helmet fitting
  • Heat acclimatization and preventing heal illness
  • Hurding
  • Illegal blocking below the waist
  • Illegal shifts involving the quarterback
  • Improper uniforms

Concussions, Contact to/with the helmet, Helmet technology & proper helmet fitting

Athletes must be aware that there is no benefit to “playing through” a shot to the head that brings about concussion symptoms. Coaches and officials need to be aware of these symptoms and get players out of the game immediately when the signs are observed.

A rule has been added to remove a player whose helmet comes off for one play. Proper fitting is essential for proper protection, and it is necessary for everyone to provide repeated instruction on proper tackling and blocking technique, check proper fitting, and provide consistent and correct rules enforcement as keys to limiting risk.

The head and helmet continue to be a point of emphasis for good reason – too many youth and high school players are injured every year, while televised NFL games continue to heap attention on players who headhunt. ANY initiation of contact with the helmet is illegal at all times. Officials must focus on enforcing the existing rules and remember that we are required to keep the head out of the game. Butt blocking, face tackling, and spearing are all Illegal Helmet Contact fouls, and other acts are addressed as personal fouls for unnecessary roughness. These include blows to the head, slapping the helmet, helmet-to-helmet contact, and initiating contact to the head. The exact wording in this year’s rules is: “When in doubt, contact to or with the helmet should be ruled a foul by game officials.”This emphasizes that the official must call a foul unless he is certain that one did not occur. This is a higher level of enforcement that will hopefully lead to greater compliance by athletes.

Illegal blocking below the waist

The rule was tightened to exclude low blocks beginning with hand-to-hand contact, and the NFHS is concerned that officials are not calling this foul often enough. The requirements of a legal block below the waist need to be enforced. There are two situations particularly that call for more attention to low blocks: running backs cutting defenders on a sweep or roll-out. Since the back was not on the line of scrimmage at the snap, he is not eligible to block below the waist at any time. Also, in a shotgun formation, the ball leaves the free blocking zone an instant after the snap. That means the only legal block below the waist would have to be made simultaneously with the snap.

Illegal shifts involving the quarterback

This primarily involves the quarterback moving from the shotgun to under center before the snap. He must reset for one second before receiving the snap if another player was in motion simultaneously. This also applies to situations where all offensive players go to their stance and the QB immediately receives the ball form the snapper. Since moving to a stance is a shift, everyone needs to be set for one second before the snap can be made. Also, if the QB is still moving forward when the ball is snapped, it is a false start. Officials are reminded that any motion or shift penalties are live ball fouls and do not kill a play. If a player in motion is moving forward at the snap, or has simulated a movement he would make at the snap, the play should be stopped immediately for a false start. 

Improper uniforms

These can be grouped into two categories: failure to wear required equipment and wearing illegal equipment or adornments.

The emphasis on failing to wear required equipment is aimed at the kneepads. All players must wear unaltered kneepads and the pants must cover the knee. Regardless of anyone’s feelings about this rule as compared to higher levels of play, it needs to be addressed by coaches as a safety issue and enforced by officials whenever a player is observed to be in violation.

As to illegal equipment, this is another area where players mimic higher levels of play, often without realizing it violates high school rules.

  • eye shields must be clear;
  • one plain white towel between 4” to 18” wide and 12” to 36” in length may be worn;
  • any jewelry other than religious and medical alert is illegal – they both must be taped down and religious medals must be worn under the uniform;
  • sweatbands can only be worn on the wrist. Bicep bands, leg bands, and neck bands cannot be worn. Anything worn on the head must not extend out of the helmet;
  • shoulder, rib, and back protectors must be fully covered to be legal;
  • casts, braces, and guards on the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, or upper arm must be fully covered with a closed-cell, slow recovery foam at least ½ inch thick;  
  • knee and ankle braces must be worn as intended and unaltered to be legal;
  • four-point chinstraps are required, and they must be worn securely.

If officials observe any illegal items prior to the game beginning, they should address it with the player or head coach. However, the burden of compliance is fully on the head coach once he verbally certifies to the referee that all players are legally and properly equipped. At the youth league level of play, it is acceptable for an official to send a player off the field for a play instead of calling a foul. This will signal the player that his violation is important, and the head coach will ask him why he was sent off. If players continue to violate, it should be addressed as a foul to strengthen the need for compliance.

If the league wants to allow pink towels during breast cancer awareness month, then the AYL Board must signal their approval. However, other colors and towels with designs must be kept out of the game at all times.

Heat acclimatization and preventing heat illness

This area falls on coaches to provide and for officials to be observant for heat injuries. Exertional Heatstroke is the leading preventable cause of death among athletes under 18. It is critical that all staff, volunteers, and officials be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of developing heat injuries and respond accordingly.


Hurdling is defined as “an attempt by a player to jump with one or both feet or knees foremost over an opponent who is contacting the ground with no part of his body except one or both feet.” Recently, national and local media have shown examples of players hurdling in the collegiate and professional game while calling them “spectacular feats” and praising the athletic abilities of the players instead of pointing out the great risk of injury to both the hurdler and tackler. Coaches need to instruct their players of the danger in hurdling, and officials need to call it whenever it occurs.

If you have any questions about the POI, or about any rule application, please contact me directly. It is my intent to keep a free dialog going through the season with all coaches and officials, so that everyone is aware and properly informed about the rules, the points of emphasis, and the importance of recognizing their impact on the athletes.

Buck Bartolik

ASO Rules Interpreter

(720) 984-0467

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