Basic spot changed for fouls either team behind Line of Scrimmage

The biggest rule change for 2023 will change how fouls that occur by either team behind the line of scrimmage on running plays are enforced. Now in most cases they will be enforced from the previous spot (where the ball was snapped). Previously they were enforced from the spot of the foul for Team A fouls and the end of the run for Team B fouls. See the video below for an example.

NOTE: This change will require that wing officials know the line of scrimmage as well as the line to gain on every play, and be diligent that the person working the down box NOT MOVE until directed by the wing official, as the box will determine the enforcement spot, not the location of flag placement. Pregame instructions to the chain crew will take on added importance.

NOTE 2: Fouls by the offense clearly in its own end zone are an exception to this change and still enforced from the spot of the foul and result in a safety. If in doubt however, rule the foul to have occurred in the field of play. Other exceptions are illegal batting, illegal kicking, and intentional grounding fouls which will be enforced from the spot of the foul. Special enforcement provisions for certain fouls (listed in Rule 10-5) such as roughing the passer still apply.

Defenseless player addition (Oregon only 2022, adopted by NFHS)

Rule 2-32-16 was amended to include a receiver in the act of catching a pass as defenseless and preventing excessive contact under 9-4-3-g. A receiver is deemed defenseless if he is forcefully contacted and the contact is not 1) incidental as a result of making a play on the ball, or 2) with open hands, or 3) an attempt to tackle by wrapping arms around the receiver. In essence, a defender (or an offensive player contacting a defender attempting an interception) is prohibited from “blowing up” a receiver as he’s attempting to or just after an attempt to catch a pass. If the contact is a result of making a play on the ball, or made with open hands, or is a wrap type tackle attempt, the contact is legal and not a foul.

A forceful hit with the shoulder to the body of the receiver in an attempt to break up the pass without a wrap of the arms should be judged to be a personal foul under 9-4-3-g.

Intentional Grounding Exception clarified

Last year’s major rule change, the exception to intentional grounding allowing a passer to legally throw away the ball if he’s outside the free blocking zone and gets the ball to the line of scrimmage, was clarified to apply ONLY to the player that receives the snap. Under the original language a QB could throw a backward pass to a teammate and that teammate could dump the ball legally under the exception. This exception now exactly follows the NCAA rule, except for the fact that it still carries a 5 yard penalty from the spot of the pass in addition to a loss of down (NCAA is merely loss of down at the spot).

In bounds/out of bounds clarified/revised

Rule 2-29-1 was revised slightly about coming in bounds after being out of bounds. Now a player who is ruled to be out of bounds will remain out of bounds until he clearly re-establishes himself to be in bounds. Illegal Participation rules still apply and have not changed. (Example: A2 is pushed out of bounds due to contact by an opponent and leaps to catch a pass near the sideline or endline and catches a pass and lands in bounds. He is still considered to be out of bounds, and the pass incomplete because he did not reestablish himself in bound before catching the pass. It is not IP in this case because he didn’t go out of bound on his own).

“Intentional” Pass Interference clause removed

This was a never used and little known about rule quirk that allowed for an extra 15 yard penalty to be added on top of the penalty for pass interference. The language was removed. This change has zero impact on how we enforce this foul and was simply a clean up/housekeeping issue.

Different colored towels now allowed

In yet another change that will have a major impact on the game, Rule 1-5-3 now allows players to have different colored towels. Previously all players wearing a towel had to use the same color towel. Now one can have a red one and another a blue one and it’s now LEGAL! Still only one logo no more than 2.25 square inches is allowed and towel must be a solid color, as long as it’s not a ball or penalty flag color. A huge relief for officials to no longer have to worry about this (sarcasm inserted). 

Clarification On The Ball Being Handed Forward On A Running Play Six Player Football

The change allows the ball to be handed forward on a running play, including to the guards/ends, while prohibiting handing the ball to the snapper provided both players are behind the neutral zone.

Defenseless player examples

The two clips above show an example of the new defenseless player clarification. Both receivers in these clips are defenseless: because of their physical positioning and focus of concentration, are especially vulnerable to injury per 2-32-16. Both players take a hard hit just as or just after the ball arrives. Neither hit is targeting as there is no blow above the shoulders. The first play is a legal hit, because the defender has wrapped his arms around the opponent in a wrap-style tackle. It is a hard hit, but legal. Play #2 however, which prior to this year was not a foul, now would be. The defender leads with his shoulder forcefully into the opponent and is not making a play on the ball, nor leading with open hands, nor attempting a wrap tackle. This type of play should now be flagged as a personal foul, unnecessary roughness against a defenseless player. 

Fouls by Offense behind Line of Scrimmage

On this play, Left Tackle 77 commits a clear takedown holding foul that is called by the umpire. It is 2nd and goal from the B-21. The foul occurs at the B-28. Under the All But One Principle previously, the foul would be enforced from the spot of the foul as it is behind the basic spot and would be enforced from the B-28, and if accepted would result in 2nd and goal from the B-38. In 2023 this foul is now enforced from the basic spot, the B-21 and would result in 2nd and goal from B-31 if accepted or 3rd and goal from B-21 if declined. Disregard where the flag lands (added bonus with the new rule, we don’t have to adjust wayward flag throws on these type fouls).

NFHS Points of Emphasis for 2023

1. Helping the Runner

A teammate may not help or assist the runner in gaining forward progress. The rule reference is 9-1: “an offensive player shall not push, pull or lift the runner to assist his forward progress”.  This is a 5 yard foul. It is rarely called.

2. Communication between Coaches and Game Officials

When Head Coaches are polled as to what makes a good officiating crew, proper communication is almost always at the top of their list. Good communication starts with the Referee at the pre-game conference with the HC. During the game, the wing official(s) are the primary communicator with the HC. Keep your demeanor professional at all times. Listen more than you speak, and always show the coach the respect he deserves. If he asks a question and you don’t know the answer, politely tell him you will get him the info he seeks as soon as is practical, then make sure you do so. If he is simply frustrated and wants to vent, let him. In the same way, coaches should keep their communication with officials professional as well. Personal attacks and continued verbal abuse should be flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. However these unwelcome behaviors are often the result of poor communication earlier in the game. 

3. Game Management

While this is primarily the responsibility of the Referee, excellent game management is a function of crew dynamics. When the crew communicates with each other well, the game is usually well managed. Proper game management starts well before the game by reviewing video of the teams playing that week, learning tendencies, who problem players might be, who the star players are and other things. A good pre-game conference in the locker room is essential. Once the crew steps onto the field, we are being evaluated by coaching staff, players, and fans. Does your crew stand around and chit chat or is it involved? A crew that is active in pre-game on field warmups by getting physically and mentally ready, taking snaps, dealing with equipment issues, formation issues, etc. will likely have a well managed game. It also includes game awareness of critical or not critical situations and officiating accordingly.

*Content courtesy of NNFOA