According to a release today from the National Federation of State HIgh School Associations Rules Committee, blindside blocks and pop-up onside kicks will now be illegal.
These are changes that the NFHS is making in the name of player safety and "risk minimization," that are sure to make many coaches around the country grunt in frustration.
Blindside blocks will now be subjected to a 15-yard penalty, and have been defined by the committee as, "a block against an opponent other than the runner, who does not see the blocker approaching,” and "contact by a blocker against an opponent who, because of physical positioning and focus of concentration, is vulnerable to injury. Unless initiated with open hands, it is a foul for excessive and unnecessary contact when the block is forceful and outside of the free-blocking zone."
On a personal note, asking a referee to make a call during a game on whether or not a defender saw a block coming seems a bit silly. One has to wonder if this includes blocks inside of the tackle box, because a defender never sees a well executed trap block coming until it's too late.
Over the past few seasons, some coaches have already seen blindside blocks being punished with a 15-yard penalty under the umbrella of the recipient of the hit being a "defenseless player." The new rule will prompt many special teams coaches to change up their return schemes a bit.
Special teams coaches will also be interested to hear that the pop-up approach to onside-kicking, where the kicker would kick the top exposed point of the ball immediately into the ground to get a big hop out of it to increase the chances of his teammates recovering it will is also being eliminated in the name of risk-minimization.
Per the NFHS release:
A new definition of a pop-up kick in Rule 2-24-10 is defined as “a free kick in which the kicker drives the ball immediately to the ground, the ball strikes the ground once and goes into the air in the manner of a ball kicked directly off the tee.”
The committee implemented this change in an effort to reduce risk of injury due to the increased use of the pop-up kick on onside kickoffs. Such kicks will be penalized as a dead-ball free-kick infraction, as noted with new Rule 6-1-11 PENALTY.
The committee also expanded the definition of a defenseless player to include more specific examples, including:
- A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass
- A receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not had time to clearly become a runner
- The intended receiver of a pass in the action during and immediately following an interception or potential interception
- A runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped
- 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
- A player obviously out of the play or not in the immediate vicinity of the runner
- A player who received a blindside block with forceful contact not initiated with open hands
A number of other changes were also discussed. Head to the NFHS release here for more information.