Timeout football: Some rules get under NWI coaches’ skin
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or firstname.lastname@example.org September 13, 2012 11:20PM
Teams are limited to two types of footballs for high school play in Indiana. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: October 15, 2012 9:55AM
Hobart football coach Ryan Turley knows his team caught a break in the Brickies’ 38-13 win over Griffith two weeks ago.
The Panthers were driving inside the Hobart red zone, almost certainly for a score, when Austin Brown’s helmet was knocked off. Under the new National Federation High School rule, a player has to leave the game for at least one play if his helmet leaves his head, even if it is incidental. Brown left. The new quarterback came in and the team was called for illegal procedure — twice. By the time Brown got back into the game, the Panthers were out of the red zone and their opportunity to score had evaporated.
Turley said the new rule, which has received mixed reviews from coaches, has changed the way his team practices.
“You’d better make sure your second-string quarterback gets snaps with the first team,” he said, “or it could turn into a nightmare.”
That is just one of a number of rules that is polarizing for coaches, and there is plenty to be polarized about. The IHSAA website has a 75-minute interactive website with six quizzes on it and 95 questions about football rules interpretation, from seemingly mundane dry stuff — changing “ball carrier” from “runner” — to a more detailed, nuanced explanation of how a chop block, which is illegal, is defined.
East Chicago Central coach Stacy Adams hates the helmet rule. His team has only been affected by it once this year, but he still hates it anyway.
“You shouldn’t lose your best player if his helmet flies off,” he said. “Some schools have better equipment than us.”
Calumet coach Ivan Zimmer doesn’t have a problem with the helmet rule. Zimmer, a former Marine who played football in the 1960s, said he never once had his helmet fly off in eight years of competition. He believes that kids today don’t know how to properly wear a helmet. It is supposed to fit snugly over your head and you shouldn’t be able to just pop it off while walking off the field. If it’s fitted properly, a player has to lean back, unbuckle his chin strap and push it off with both hands.
“You see guys walk off the field and taking off their helmet,” he said. “It doesn’t even touch their ears. I played when you could clothesline guys and it never happened.”
Over the years, according to Turley, kids have taken creative license toward finding a comfortable chin strap — something that is a little like finding a good pair of shoes. A chin strap that is too tight is irritating, but one that is too loose won’t hold a helmet in place. Some kids actually buy a separate chin strap for their helmet — something that Turley doesn’t allow because it increases the risk of a helmet coming off. Manufacturers have taken a hard line on honoring the warranties for their helmets if the players aren’t using the proper chin strap for it.
There are other rules that drive coaches mad.
Zimmer’s pet peeve rule that he’d change with a magic wand is the overtime rule. He believes team should start at the 25, not the 10. His team got beat one year by Hammond in the tournament after one of his defenders slipped on a fourth-and-10 play after Calumet had scored. Some things you never forget.
“I just think you’re playing Russian Roulette when you go from the 10,” he said.
Lake Central coach Brett St. Germain has his own rule that he doesn’t like — the automatic touchback for a kickoff or a punt that reaches the end zone.
He just doesn’t get it.
“Sometimes these kids are catching the ball a yard into the end zone,” St. Germain said. “That is a huge benefit for a team that can kick it in the end zone every time. They don’t take that away in the pros.”
Zimmer isn’t a fan of the rule either, maintaining it limits one of the most exciting plays in football: a kickoff return for a touchdown.
“That allows you to teach a kid to make a decision,” he said. “If it goes in the end zone now, it’s too bad — you can’t run it back. The receiving team is also being penalized because they can’t run it back. If you have a good kicker, you never have to worry about a runback.”
Turley, who has, if not the best, one of the best kickers in Northwest Indiana in Aaron Del Grosso, loves the rule. His team rarely has to cover a kickoff, though it did happen against Crown Point in a way that he’d rather forget. Del Grosso kicked one near the goal line and the Bulldogs returner caught it with one foot in the end zone, but the ball outside of the end zone by a yard. The Brickies, who weren’t used to covering kickoffs, relaxed on the play and the kick was almost returned for a touchdown.
Turley doesn’t ever see the Federation changing the rules, given the huge emphasis on limiting head injuries at every stage of football.
Portage coach Wally McCormack tends to be interested in the more absurd rules rather than the annoying ones. He can rattle them like off without even thinking about it.
No hurdling teammates a la Walter Payton jumping over a pile into the end zone (just instituted this year).
All towels must be white (Portage ruined a bunch last week of the rain).
No muscle bands.
Wrist bands can’t be worn up to your elbows.
Jerseys have to be tucked in.
The one rule that McCormack despises the most isn’t even a Federation rule. It’s an Indiana rule. All schools must use Wilson footballs. The GST, the one most commonly used, costs $69. McCormack believes that it’s a rip-off.
“They go bad real quick,” he said. “We used four balls last week. They’re done. We can’t use them again.”
McCormack said it gets stranger every year. Last week, an official came and checked the air pressure of the footballs they used.
“I’ve never had that happen,” he said.
Lake Station coach Mike Hepp is mystified by one point of emphasis that he contends will never, ever be called: An offensive player leading with his head.
That means that technically, a fullback who dives into a pile head first to try to pick up a first down on third-and-1, could be called for a penalty.
“I don’t understand it,” he said. “Who is going to make that call with sectionals on the line?”
Both Turley and St. Germain have one other beef that doesn’t specifically involve a rule, but a trend in the game.
It’s the overt way that the rules have evolved to stifle aggressive defensive play, all in an effort to limit head injuries. It’s good to guard against concussions, but they believe there has been an overreaction to what is appropriate defensive play.
“We have had some questionable personal fouls called against us,” St. Germain said. “I know they are guarding against concussions, but we had one called where a guy hit a guy inbounds and the play carried two or three yards out of bounds. It’s like, should we play flag football?”
Turley, a defensive coach, said there was a time not long ago when you could jam a receiver five yards downfield. Now, you get to bump him coming off the line — and that is it. That makes for an offensive game. He also said sacking the quarterback has become an art form for defensive linemen, who have to learn to lay off at the last second if a quarterback releases the ball while in the grasp of a lineman.
“It’s such a fine line,” he said. “You try to teach them aggression and they’re going full speed and they hit the quarterback and get called for a personal foul.”