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High school penalty enforcement now aligns with college and NFL

NFHS changed the enforcement of offensive fouls behind the line



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Football officials working high school and college games have long dealt with differences in rules and mechanics between the two levels. One of those differences was eliminated this year when the National Federation of State High School Associations — the NFHS — approved a change to how offensive fouls committed in the backfield are enforced.

Previously, offensive fouls that occurred behind the line of scrimmage were enforced using the “all-but-one” principle. Fouls were either enforced from the spot of the foul or from the end of the run. This differed from NCAA and NFL enforcement procedures, and it also severely punished offenses. For example, if a holding foul occurred seven yards in the backfield, an offense would essentially take a 17-yard penalty for that foul, significantly more than the 10 yards associated with a holding penalty.

Now, fouls that occur in the offensive backfield will be enforced from the previous spot, regardless of where in the backfield they occur. This aligns with NCAA and NFL enforcement procedures. (The NFL started using the previous-spot enforcement in 1975.) There are still a few exceptions, such as intentional grounding and illegal batting/kicking, which are still enforced as spot fouls.

Defensive foul enforcement was also cleaned up and simplified. Penalties are now enforced from either the previous spot or the succeeding spot, whichever is further upfield. Previously, defensive fouls on running plays were always enforced from the end of the run (with a few small exceptions).

Officials, players, coaches, and fans will likely be happy with this simplification and alignment of rules between the different levels of football. It will be interesting to see if the NFHS continues this simplification and alignment process for future rule changes.

Chris currently resides in Michigan and has been a sports official for over 30 years. By day, he works in research in the automotive industry. By night, when he isn't watching his kids play sports, he officiates high school football, softball, and basketball while nerding out on all things related to officiating.