NFHS 2017 Fall Sports Rule Changes

NFHSLogoEach year the National Federation of State High School Associations and its rules committees present changes for the upcoming year, and send out a release. CIAC does its best to share rule changes with its membership, but things can get lost in the shuffle. To try and prevent that, we’ve included all the released rule changes for fall sports that will go into effect in the fall of 2017 in one place. Of course coaches, ADs and officials are encouraged to check out the NFHS website itself to get complete information and explanations of the changes.

Click on any of the sports below to read the press release from the NFHS outlining the rule changes for those sports.


A new substitution rule for goalkeepers has been adopted in high school field hockey. Effective with the 2017 season, all players, including the goalkeeper, will now enter the game through the 10-yard substitution area.

This revision in Rule 1-2-4h was one of eight rules changes recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Field Hockey Rules Committee at its January 12-13 in Indianapolis. The proposed rules changes were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

Beginning next season, all substitutions, including ones involving the goalkeeper, will take place from the same substitution area.The game and time will only be stopped for a goalkeeper substitution at a natural break in the game, which is defined as any stoppage that does not interrupt the flow of the game.

Mark Koski, NFHS director of sports, events and development and liaison to the NFHS Field Hockey Rules Committee, said the new procedure will allow for a smoother and safer transition during a goalkeeper substitution.

Rough and dangerous play and unnecessary delay of game are now considered fouls rather than misconduct and are included in the list of fouls in Rule 8-1.  Umpires can now use all administrative tools to manage such fouls as they occur in the game. On deliberate fouls by the defense within the 25-yard line, but outside the circle, the official shall award a penalty corner.

The awarding of a penalty stroke for misconduct in Rule 8-2 has been eliminated. The committee believes that removing a player for the remainder of the game and the team playing short-handed are appropriate consequences without awarding a penalty stroke to the opponent.

In the Official Field Hockey Signals, separate signals will be developed for “Free Hit” and “25-Yard Free Hit.” Previously, they were combined in one signal.

A complete listing of all rules changes will be available soon on the NFHS website at Click on “Activities & Sports” at the top of the home page, and select “Field Hockey.”


A new rule allowing the kicking of the ball in any direction to begin play in high school soccer is among the rules changes approved for the 2017-18 season.

The new kickoff procedure is one of eight changes recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Soccer Rules Committee at its January 24-25 meeting in Indianapolis. All rules changes were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

Previously, the ball had to be kicked forward from the center of the field to begin play at the beginning of the game, after halftime and after each goal. The new rule states that the ball may clearly move in any direction.

“There have been a number of rule changes in soccer (at other levels), so we look to see if they are appropriate for high school competition,” said Theresia Wynns, NFHS director of sports and officials and liaison to the Soccer Rules Committee. “We want to ensure that the rules we consider are what is best for the (high school) game and not difficult for officials to implement.”

The change to the kickoff procedure in Rule 8-1-3 requires a change in Rule 13-1-2, which now states that all free kicks, with the exception of penalty kicks, may be taken in any direction. The kickoff has been eliminated as an exception.

In addition, Rule 10-1-3f states that a goal may not be scored directly from a kickoff into the kicking team’s own goal. This change is consistent with the concept that a team cannot score against itself from a free kick.

Players are now permitted to use a stutter step or a hesitation move when taking a penalty kick as long as there is continuous movement according to a change in Rule 14-1-4. Stutter-stepping is not an interruption of movement toward the ball.

A change in Rule 4-2-9 permits a soft-padded headgear that meets the ASTM standard to be worn. This allows, but does not require players to use the newer headgear styles that are not just headbands. Wynns said schools, students and parents are free to make their own assessments of this equipment. Due to this rule change, Exception No. 1 to Rule 4-2-1 is no longer necessary and has been removed from the rules book.

An addition to Rule 4-1-1d allows players to wear visible arm compression sleeves and visible leg compression sleeves as long as they are a single, solid color matching the predominant color of the jersey or shorts. This addition to the existing rule is to maintain consistency with current uniform rules requirements and color restrictions.

The final change to Rule 5-1-3f allows officials to use electronic communication devices if permitted by the state association. Wynns said this change will permit officials to use devices currently available to improve communication and allow for a better officiated game.

A complete listing of all rules changes will be available soon on the NFHS website at Click on “Activities & Sports” at the top of the home page, and select “Soccer.”


New rules on blindside blocking are the most recent steps taken by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Football Rules Committee in minimizing the risks associated with the sport.

The establishment of a new definition of a blindside block in Rule 2-3-10 and the addition of Rule 9-4-3n prohibiting a blindside block were two of 11 rules changes recommended by the NFHS Football Rules Committee at its January 20-22 meeting in Indianapolis. All rules changes were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

“The NFHS Football Rules Committee’s actions this year once again addressed risk minimization, officiating, competitive balance and game administration,” said Bob Colgate, director of sports and sports medicine at the NFHS and staff liaison for football.

The definition of a blindside block established by the committee is “a block against an opponent other than the runner, who does not see the blocker approaching,” and now results in a 15-yard penalty.

The committee stated that the blindside block “involves 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.”

“As has been the case for many years, the NFHS Football Rules Committee continued to place their main emphasis on risk minimization,” said Todd Tharp, chair of the NFHS Football Rules Committee and assistant director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association. “With this new definition of a blindside block and the penalty to be assessed, the committee stresses the importance of proper coaching techniques under the rules and accurate enforcement by the game officials.”

Another significant risk-minimization change was elimination of a pop-up kick in new Rule 6-1-11. 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 NFHS Football Rules Committee also expanded Rule 2-32-16 regarding a defenseless player by adding specific examples of a defenseless player. Those examples include, but are not limited to:

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; and
A player who received a blindside block with forceful contact not initiated with open hands.
“A great deal of time was spent by the committee creating specific criteria to define exactly what a defenseless player is,” Tharp said. “Coaches can use these examples to focus on the proper mechanics of blocking and tackling, and game officials now are able to use this expanded definition to focus on continued risk minimization of the players.”

Changes to Rule 7-1-6 expand on the situations required for encroachment to occur after the ready-for-play and after the snapper has placed his hand(s) on the ball. The rule previously stated that encroachment occurred if “any other player breaks the plane of the neutral zone.” In addition, now defensive players are restricted from contacting the ball prior to the end of the snap or making contact with the snapper’s hand(s) or arm(s) until the snapper has released the ball.

The remaining changes approved by the NFHS Football Rules Committee touched on a new ball specification (1-3-1h), uniforms [(1-5-1b(3)], game officials (1-5-4), post-scrimmage kick fouls (2-16-2h), penalty time clock management (3-4-7), prosthetic limbs (4-2-2l) and forward-pass interference (7-5-10), in which the previous foul for non-contact face guarding was eliminated as forward-pass interference.

Regarding the uniform change in Rule 1-5-1b(3), effective with the 2021 season, “the jerseys of the home team shall be a dark color that clearly contrasts to white.”

“The committee revised the rule to provide schools and manufacturers more clarification regarding the game’s current trend of utilizing lighter gray shades,” Colgate said. “The requirement for teams to wear contrasting colors to white is not a new rule, and it is the committee’s expectation that this new clarification will allow changes to be made during normal replacement cycles.”

A complete listing of all rules changes will be available soon on the NFHS website at Click on “Activities & Sports” at the top of the home page, and select “Football.”


The responsibilities and mechanics of the second referee during a time-out in high school volleyball have been altered. Effective with the 2017-18 season, the second referee will whistle a warning at 45 seconds and instruct the timer to sound the horn at 60 seconds as the defining end of a time-out. Further, the second referee shall whistle if the teams are ready to play prior to the 45-second warning and then instruct the timer to sound the horn.

This revision to Rule 5-5-3b was one of five rules changes recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Volleyball Rules Committee at its January 8-10 meeting in Indianapolis and subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

In a related change, Rule 5-4-3c(17) now states that the first referee shall whistle a warning at 45 seconds if the second referee is still checking the scoresheet. In addition, Rule 5-8-3a states that every time-out will end with a warning whistle by the second referee followed by the horn sounded by the timer.

“The committee is in resounding agreement that the sport of volleyball is in a good position. Participation numbers are higher than ever and there is no need to make many changes to the rules,” said Becky Oakes, NFHS director of sports and liaison to the Volleyball Rules Committee.

A new rule, 9-8-2, clarifies that a replay is considered to be part of a single-play action. Once a replay is signaled by the first referee, no requests — time-out, service order, lineup, substitution, libero replacement, etc. — may be recognized until after the replay.

A change was also made in the Officials Signals in the Volleyball Rules Book. Signal No. 20 for illegal substitution will be eliminated since the penalty for illegal substitution is covered in signal No. 22 — unnecessary delay.

A complete listing of all rules changes will be available soon on the NFHS website at Click on “Activities & Sports” at the top of the home page, and select “Volleyball.”


Among the changes to high school swimming and diving rules for 2017-18 are ones that address risk minimization and requirements for use of the championship meet format.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Swimming and Diving Rules Committee recommended seven rules changes at its March 19-21 meeting in Indianapolis, and all changes were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

Rule 1-3-12 now requires state associations to identify culminating meets, which require use of the championship format. Due to the variations in conference, league and postseason championships within states, the committee believes it is appropriate for the respective state association to determine which meets shall be considered culminating meets.

“The championship meet format features preliminaries and finals rounds, which are thought to provide athletes the best opportunity to excel in their events,” said Sandy Searcy, NFHS director of sports and liaison to the Swimming and Diving Rules Committee. “However, the format also prescribes specific rules associated with team and individual entries, dual confirmation, declared false starts and applicable penalties for violation of these rules.

“The committee agreed that state associations are in the best position to determine which competitions must adhere to the championship meet format. The language also allows non-championship meets to be conducted using the championship meet format.”

An addition to Rule 8-3-5c specifies where a second, third and fourth swimmer’s feet must be when a relay exchange occurs. One foot must be in contact with the surface of the starting platform in front of the starting block wedge during takeoff to minimize risk during relay exchanges.

Rule 3-6 was reorganized to provide clarity regarding the potential conduct issues within a meet. As a result, the committee believes these issues are now easier to compare and categorize for appropriate action and/or penalty. Rule 4-1-8 was also affected by this rule change and now includes language regarding appropriate conduct for meet officials.

Other rules changes include:

Rule 9-5-2, which addresses the approach and hurdle requirements in diving. This clarifies the intent for hops, leaps and/or jumps to count toward the three-step forward approach requirement.
Rule 3-3-2a, which provides consistency for all NFHS sports regarding what school and competitor information is permitted on the uniform which, in swimming and diving, consists of the suit and swim cap.
Rule 4-6-4, which requires dual confirmation for relay exchanges during championship meets. The referee and the starter may serve as the relay takeoff judges.
Rule 3-4, which provides competitors more flexibility when competing in 500-yard events to count either up or down with visual lap counters. This practice permits flexibility for the competitor, and is in keeping with current trends in the sport.
“The Swimming and Diving Rules Committee was intentional in deliberation of this year’s rules proposals,” Searcy said. “Its main focus this year was to minimize risk but also clarify existing rules.”


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