Fans, coaches, and athletes alike will see a slight change during high school football games this season. The play clock will start at 40 seconds instead of the customary 25 seconds like in years past as part of an effort to establish a more consistent time period between downs in a game. It is a rules adopted by the Missouri State High School Activities Association in a nationwide rule change by the National Federation of State High School Association.
The new 40-second play clock will begin immediately when the covering official signals the end of a play – such as when a runner is marked down or a pass is incomplete. There will be no signal from the referee to start the play clock. The ball will be live when the game official places it on the ground and steps away.
Perryville football coach Blane Boss thought the change in time increments may be a little steep.
“To go from 25 seconds to 40 seconds seems a little extreme to me,” Boss said. “But it is setting up to make them faster games because a team can chew up one quarter if they have a long drive. A better time to me would have been 30-35 seconds, but it is what it is.”
There are a few instances when the 25-second clock will still be used such as after a score, a mistaken whistle, timeout or injury, the start of a quarter, or a change of possession. There is one exception to the rule however. A referee starting the game clock would be if the 40 seconds runs past 25 seconds and the football is not yet on the ground ready for the next down, the official would signal for 25 seconds on the play clock with a pumping motion with one hand up and down.
Regardless of the rule change, St. Vincent football coach Tim Schumer said it shouldn’t affect his team too much.
“We played at a fast enough pace anyway, that the play clock never really played a factor,” Schumer said. “I don’t think we will have too much trouble with that.”
Run heavy teams that deploy an option-type offense like Perryville will look to take advantage of the new rule to chew up a majority of the clock in a quarter, but teams such as the Indians that have a bulk of their offense through the air, will have more plays on the ground, but in a different sense, as not to be a detriment of their game plan.
“We are going to go into a game with a balanced attack, especially early on to try to establish the run game,” Schumer said, “but we want to push the tempo, then try to grind the game out. We want to get in as much plays as we can, than to make the game go by as quickly as possible. If we are running the ball well, then we want to get up to the line as quickly as possible and put pressure on the defense to keep up with us.”
Boss understands too though the strategy behind running out the clock at the ends of halves or games, especially if his team is ahead in a close game in week one.
“It will definitely make it tougher to come back if we are down late,” Boss said. “On the other hand, it can help us out too, but it puts pressure on us to pick up first downs to keep the ball and continue to make the clock move.”
But like Schumer, Boss doesn’t see much change in how he will coach or relay plays into the huddle when it comes to the 40 second clock..
“If anything, it should give us more time,” Boss said.
Two changes were approved by the committee in an effort to reduce the risk of injury in high school football. First, tripping the runner is now prohibited. Beginning next season, it will be a foul to intentionally use the lower leg or foot to obstruct a runner below the knees. Previously, a runner was not included in the definition of tripping.
Second, in Rule the “horse-collar” foul was expanded to include the name-plate area, which is directly below the back collar. Grabbing the name-plate area of the runner’s jersey, directly below the back collar, and pulling the runner to the ground is now an illegal personal contact foul.
The final change approved by the NFHS Football Rules Committee for the 2019 season was a reduction in the penalty for illegally kicking or batting the ball from 15 yards to 10 yards.
A change in the definition of a legal scrimmage formation was approved. A legal scrimmage formation now requires at least five offensive players on their line of scrimmage (instead of seven) with no more than four backs. The committee noted that this change will make it easier to identify legal and illegal offensive formations.