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Changes to football rules meant to prevent concussions

Each year, the point of emphasis by the National Federation of State High School Associations is to prevent concussions in football. Helping players avoid illegal contact and illegal helmet hits has been one of the points of emphasis each of the last 25 years.

With a serious hit and its impact it can have on someone’s life as a worst fear, there have been new rules for the upcoming season to help keep players as safe as possible.

The most noticeable change will be a new definition for a blindside block, and will give a penalty for an illegal block. The definition given is a block involved with contact by a blocker against an opponent who, due to physical positioning and focus of concentration, is open to an injury. This will also apply for runners who are not carrying the ball but are hit without seeing it coming.

Unless the block is initiated with open hands, it will be called a foul for excessive contact when the block is drastic and outside of the free-blocking zone. The rule was tested last year, but will now be enforced.

Klamath Falls Football Officials Association commissioner Eddie Lewis said his referees did not issue any of those penalties last year, and have had minimal plays when it was believed a player had suffered an injury to the head and appeared to show symptoms. “There has not been enough people calling the rule,” Lewis said. “I think the federation’s focus has been on risk management. You now have to pay attention to face tackling and situations that occur away from the ball. “No one wants to line up in court and in a lawsuit if you do not do your job.”

A recent survey through NFHS showed high school sports has increased in participation by 28 percent, though football did not not. For 11-man football, there was a drop of 25,000 players from last year.

Now, the NFHS rule to determine concussions has officials able to say a player has sustained a concussion, which will remove them from the game. If a player shows signs he has a concussion, the official will tell a head coach what he sees from the player and can remove him from the following play.

Each official has to become concussion certified before the season starts.

The Klamath Basin has done well in preventing and monitoring injuries, with Lewis not having a recollection of many concussions since he has been commissioner the last 18 years. “I would say we are not worse than anyone else when it comes to head injuries,” Lewis said. “It is a difficult situation because you have to apply the rule, process and act on it within a split second. There are no replays here.”

The NFHS has listened to opinions on how to help with head collisions after an annual football rules questionnaire from coaches, game officials and state association representatives. There are now examples of what is considered a defenseless player, and includes several quarterback scenarios on slides on the field and sidelines, along with plays that occur many yards away from where the football is. Lewis said there is still an emphasis that it is a responsibility for players to avoid contact.

Though it is a rule not as monitored, NFHS does want teams to follow uniform policies and wants to make sure knee pads are worn properly. Some college players have knee pads not covering the entire knee, and some NFL players have elected to not wear them at all.

Lewis expects he will have 35-40 officials this year, though he has a total of 50 on his unofficial list of those who have officiated in the past. KFFOA had its first meeting recently and covered on-field responsibility by positions for five-man and four-man crews. Lewis went to Portland for the annual commissioner’s meeting, where he was informed what the NFHS wants to make its focus on. “I think they are trying to take the judgment out of football, or at least help it, like with face guarding ... you may call it and the next guy may not call it,” Lewis said. “I think it will help us as officials more and how things are portrayed.

“It was emphasized in the meeting — one mechanic, one rule and one interpretation.”; Follow @joaquina33

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