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High school and youth football rules coaches and parents need to understand

22 Mar 2016 3:31 PM | William Lee (Administrator)

Nate Boudreaux Fri, 08/21/2015 - 1:32pm

The game your 10-year-old plays on Saturday mornings or your 16-year-old plays on Friday nights is vastly different than college games you watch on Saturday afternoons or the pro game on Sundays.

And many of the rules are different, too. 

Unfortunately, many coaches – especially at the youth level – and and even more parents don’t know the rules and sometimes confuse them with what they see on TV.

So, before berating the official at a pee-wee football game for not implementing a 10-second runoff at the end of a half, here are a few notable rule differences between NCAA, NFL, youth and high school football that you should know.

NOTE: These definitions are based on the National Federation of High School Associations and the USA Football rule books, the most commonly used text for the high school and youth levels. Youth leagues can adapt these rules to their local preferences.

  • There is no “outside the tackle box” in youth or high school football. This is probably my favorite as I’ve seen endless coaches and fans lose their mind over this one – and be wrong. At the college and NFL levels, if a quarterback is outside of the tackle, he can throw the ball away – as long as it crosses the line of scrimmage – in an effort to avoid a sack. At the high school and youth levels, there is no such rule. If a quarterback intentionally throws the ball out of bounds with no receiver in the area, it doesn’t matter whether he is outside the tackle box or not. It’s a penalty for intentional grounding.
  • There is no 5-yard “chuck” rule in youth or high school football like there is in the NFL. Actually, it’s a foul if a defensive backs plays bump-and-run coverage.  The high school rules state the defenders can contact an eligible offensive receiver in an effort to “ward off a potential block,” but if it’s a passing play and that receiver is not trying to block, he can’t be contacted by a defender. This foul doesn’t get called as much as it should because everyone – coaches and fans – assume the contact is legal because that’s what they see on TV every Sunday.
  • Personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in youth and high school football do not carry an automatic first down. Those are just 15-yard penalties.  Also high school football, defensive pass interference no longer carries the automatic first down either –  just the 15-yard penalty. It does not make a difference in most cases except when teams face a goal-to-go situation. In those scenarios, not getting an automatic first down after one of those fouls could be a game-changer.
  • In high school and youth football, a kick – punt, kickoff or field goal attempt – that crosses the plane of the goal line becomes dead. So coaches, there’s no need to place a player under the goal post in an attempt to return a long missed field goal attempt in youth or high school football. The ball is dead once it crosses the goal line.
  • There are no “free fouls” in youth or high school football, meaning if the defense commits a foul during a live ball (i.e. defensive holding or pass interference) and the offense scores on the play, the penalty can be enforced on the try or succeeding kickoff. All too many times, you see coaches wanting to decline these penalties. They simply don’t realize it can be enforced on the kickoff.

Hopefully this helps clarify some things and saves a few youth coaches and parents from blowing a gasket for no reason.  Enjoy the season.

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