New AIA Penalty Promotes Football Player Safety

Throughout the past several years, one of the hot topics surrounding every level of football has become player safety. Through professional, college, and now high school football, league officials have been taking steps toward promoting player safety on a regular basis, based on a deliberate increase in football-related injuries, according to the NCAA.

In Arizona high school football, the AIA has implemented three new experimental rules, effective at the beginning of the 2016 season. These rules have been implemented on an experimental basis, meaning that the Arizona Football Officials Association is subject to review the outcomes of these penalties for the viability of future permanent rule changes.

One of these three rule changes, the Blindside Block Penalty, was implemented in order to maximize player safety and promote the AIA’s player safety regime.

The AFOA describes a blindside block as “any forceful block, outside the free blocking zone, against a defenseless player who does not have a reasonable opportunity to see the blocker approach.”

According to the AFOA, blindside blocks “create a high probability of unnecessary or excessive contact.” The AIA’s Football Rule and Mechanics Handbook also describes these types of plays as “especially dangerous, because the blocker is often running at full speed while the opponent is in the process of turning or moving laterally in pursuit of the runner.”

In the official wording of the rule, “No player or non-player shall deliver a blindside block to an opponent unless initiated with open hands.”

In order to avoid these dangerous plays, the AFOA encourages blockers to initiate with the “head up, open hand blocking technique,” rather than the common “launching-style shoulder hits.”

According to the AFOA, this penalty does not eliminate all blindside blocks, but simply those that are initiated illegally, with the use of a driven shoulder.

Nick Waring, who has been officiating football as a referee for the AIA for the past seven years, spoke about this experimental rule change, and commended the AIA for eliminating these plays, which have the potential to lead to “serious injury.”

“I have called this penalty twice,” Waring said. “My crew of five has called this penalty about ten times.”

Waring also said that many of the teams he’s dealt with have adjusted to this new penalty as the season has proceeded.

“The good bulk of those ten calls were made in the beginning of the year,” Waring said. “Players and coaches understood the rule more as the season progressed and we saw a decrease in the penalty.”

As this penalty promotes a completely different style of blocking from what many players are used to, Waring said he thinks the penalty may have even changed the way certain teams strategize.

“I believe this rule change has had an impact on certain teams’ strategies offensively,” Waring said. “It makes you revert back to the fundamentals of blocking; using your hands instead of launching your shoulder into the opponent.”

Although this rule change has shown to be impactful in just it’s first season, it’s important to remember that this rule change is still experimental.

According to the AFOA “These plays will be found via Hudl and evaluated on a weekly basis to determine the direction and focus of weekly training videos for our officals. Coaches are encouraged to send their game film weekly to the AFOA Hudl account.”

Based on the way this rule is evaluated at the end of the season, we will soon know whether or not this rule change becomes permanent in Arizona High School Football.

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