Story and Photo By Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports
Remember the times you pulled up to the entrance to Tad Gormley or Pan American Stadium for a 7 p.m. high school football game, only to discover that the 2:30 p.m. game that preceded it had just ended?
You were turned back by a security guard for a variety of reasons, most of which still resonate:
“The bus that was supposed to pick up one of the teams broke down and the team had to wait for a replacement” … or “The bus driver brought the band first then went back to the school to pick up the team.”
There are many reasons afternoon football games delay the start of those that are scheduled to follow. And the excuses can be creative.
But the fact is that tardiness affects players, coaches and fans of the second game. Parents, students and other spectators expecting to be admitted to their bleacher seats are held outside the gates while those in the stands for the earlier game work their way out of the exits and walk to the parking spaces that you thought would be available to your car.
Many of us who follow high school football have lived through that scenario, as recently as last football season.
That predicament is about to change, thanks to the National Federation of State High School Associations’ rules committee.
They’re on the clock
Beginning in the 2019 football season (just three months away), the team on offense will have 40 seconds to snap the ball for the next play or face a delay-of-game penalty.
Immediately when the ball is ruled “dead” by a game official, a 40-second play clock will begin its countdown. The team on offense will have that little time to snap the ball.
There will be no lollygagging. When any official declares the play has ended, the referee will signal to the play clock official to begin the 40-second clock.
The time will be even more critical following a set of circumstances that call for the play clock to begin at 25 seconds, members of the Greater New Orleans Football Officials Association learned at their spring meeting at Country Day earlier in May.
The electric clock operators will start the play clock at 25 seconds: (a) prior to the PAT attempt following a score, (b) at the start of any period, including an overtime period, or an administrative stoppage, (c) an inadvertent whistle, (d) following a charged timeout, and (e) following an officials’ timeout.
The jargon may mean little to the common fan, but the intended outcome is to keep the game moving so that it doesn’t last three hours when teams and officials are slow to execute a play.
The rule is designed to ensure that each team is given a consistent interval between plays. It should also avoid inconsistencies among different referees.
It will be especially critical for teams that employ the “West Coast Offense,” which places more emphasis on passing than running the ball.
That is a popular offense for many public school teams whose coaches look to score quickly rather than run more, which often, for them, results in fumbles.
Unfortunately, frequent passing also results in more incomplete passes, which stop the clock.
No need to count heads
You may recall seeing officials counting the number of players between snaps, then signaling to each other with a clenched fist that there are 11. No longer will officials look to count seven players on the offensive line of scrimmage. Their focus will be on counting the backfield.
The jersey numbers (1-through-49 for backs and receivers) will no longer be an issue. The officials will look to ensure that no more or less than four players are in the backfield.
A legal scrimmage formation now requires at least five offensive players on the line of scrimmage (instead of seven) with no more than four backs.
This change is supposed to make it easier for the officials to identify legal and illegal offensive positions.
The reason for explaining these changes now is because Louisiana high school football teams are about to hold their spring scrimmages under the new rules.
Two rules were added in an effort to reduce the risk of injury to a player.
It will be a foul to intentionally use the lower leg or foot to obstruct a runner below his knees. A player in possession of the ball was not included in the previous definition.
Also, a horse-collar foul was expanded to include pulling the runner down by grabbing the name plate area, which is directly below the back collar.
What lies ahead: The NFHS has approved a rule to allow game or replay officials to use a replay monitor during state playoff games to review decisions by the on-field officials.
Fortunately for now, it’s on a state-by-state adoption basis, and Louisiana is not one considering replay. What was I saying about three-hour football games?
Ron Brocato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.