By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A pair of football rules changes taking effect this season build on continuing work to minimize health risks in all interscholastic sports as 2017-18 fall practices begin next week for member schools of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
Practice in football must begin on Aug. 7 for all schools wishing to begin regular-season games the weekend of Aug. 24-26. Schools must have 12 days of preseason practice at all levels before their first game, over a period of 16 calendar days before the first kickoff.
Practice sessions for all other sports begin Wednesday (Aug. 9). In golf and tennis, competition may commence no earlier than after three separate days of team practice, and not before seven calendar days. The first day competition may take place in golf and tennis is Aug. 16. In all other fall sports, contests can take place after seven days of practice for the team and not before nine calendar days. The first day competition may take place in cross country, soccer, swimming & diving, and volleyball is Aug. 18.
This fall, two football game dates again precede Labor Day, and a number of MHSAA schools will play their first varsity games on Thursday, Aug. 24. In Week 1, 141 varsity games will be played on Thursday, 153 contests will be played on Friday, and 16 games will be played on Saturday. In the second week, four games will be played Wednesday, 238 games will take place Thursday, 64 will be played Friday, and five contests are Saturday.
A change to the allowable level of contact on a blindside block in football is one of the latest rules changes aimed at increasing player safety. A blindside block involves contact by a blocker against an opponent who, because of physical positioning and focus of concentration (for example, while following a ball carrier on a kickoff return), is vulnerable to injury by a block coming from outside his field of vision. Blindside blocks now must be initiated with open hands only; blindside contact that is forceful and initiated with other parts of the body outside of the free blocking zone will be penalized as excessive and unnecessary.
In addition to redefining the blindside block, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) sought to also minimize risk by eliminating the pop-up kick – that is, any free kick during which the kicker drives the ball immediately to the ground, causing it to bounce only once and into the air similar to the flight of a ball kicked directly off the tee. Kicks off a tee that bounce multiple times and then pop into the air remain allowed.
A few other notable rules changes in football will be apparent this fall:
• A defensive player will be called for encroachment for striking the offensive snapper’s hand or arm, or the ball, prior to the snapper releasing the ball to begin a play.
• Non-contact face guarding is no longer considered pass interference.
• A team accepting a penalty during the final two minutes of either half now will have the option of re-starting the clock at the snap of the ball rather than the referee’s ready-for-play signal.
While most fall sports face at least minor rules changes this season, a few more of the most noticeable adjustments will come in boys soccer and girls swimming & diving.
• In boys soccer, overtime periods and shootouts during the regular season have been eliminated. Leagues and conferences are allowed an overtime option for their end-of-season bracketed tournaments, but overtime in those cases must not exceed two 10-minute periods plus a shootout. Multi-team regular-season tournaments also may receive waivers to employ a shootout if it is used to determine the winner of a game.
• Also in soccer, kickoffs may now travel in any direction from the center of the field. Previously, kickoffs at the high school level were required to move forward down the field of play.
• In girls swimming & diving, a diver will need only four regular-season wins (instead of the previous five) to qualify for the Regional Diving Qualification Meet. A diver also may qualify if she places ahead of all divers from opposing schools in varsity competition in at least four meets, even if she does not finish ahead of her teammates.
• Also in swimming & diving, to promote safer take-offs during relays, the second, third and fourth swimmers must have at least one foot in contact with the starting platform in front of the starting block wedge during take-off. Those second, third and fourths swimmers may not take off with both feet on top of the starting block wedge.
The 2017 fall campaign culminates with postseason tournaments beginning with the Upper Peninsula Girls Tennis Finals the week of Sept. 25 and wraps up with the 11-Player Football Playoff Finals on Nov. 24 and 25. Here is a complete list of fall tournament dates:
U.P. Finals – Oct. 21
L.P. Regionals – Oct. 27 or 28
L.P. Finals – Nov. 4
Selection Sunday – Oct. 22
Pre-Districts – Oct. 27 or Oct. 28
District Finals – Nov. 3 or 4
Regional Finals – Nov. 10 or 11
Semifinals – Nov. 18
Finals – Nov. 24-25
Selection Sunday – Oct. 22
Regional Semifinals – Oct. 27 or Oct. 28
Regional Finals – Nov. 3 or 4
Semifinals – Nov. 11
Finals – Nov. 17
L.P. Girls Golf
Regionals – Oct. 11 or 12 or 13 or 14
Finals – Oct. 20-21
Boys L.P. Districts – Oct. 16-21
Boys L.P. Regionals – Oct. 24-28
Boys L.P. Semifinals – Nov. 1
Boys L.P. Finals – Nov. 4
L.P. Girls Swimming & Diving
Diving Regionals – Nov. 9
Swimming/Diving Finals – Nov. 17-18
U.P. Girls Finals – Sept. 27-30
L.P. Boys Regionals – Oct. 12 or 13 or 14
L.P. Finals – Oct. 20-21
Districts – Oct. 30-Nov. 4
Regionals – Nov. 7 & 9
Quarterfinals – Nov. 14
Semifinals – Nov. 16-17
Finals – Nov. 18
To provide for the convenience and safety of spectators attending the Michigan High School Athletic Association 11-Player Football Finals on Nov. 25 and 26 at Ford Field in Detroit, attendees are being advised of a variety of items related to transportation and security – including policies regarding parking, seating and types of bags allowed into the stadium.
Parking will be available in Ford Field facilities and lots to the east and north of the stadium and costs $8. A map identifying the designated Ford Field lots (4, 5 and 6) and parking deck can be found on the Football page under “Tracking the Tournament.” (There also are a number of privately-operated parking facilities close to Ford Field, but their pricing may differ.)
Fans also are advised that the consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Ford Field parking facilities and lots, and smoking – including use of electronic cigarettes and vaporizers – is prohibited inside the stadium. Tailgating, including the setting up and use of grilling equipment, also is not allowed.
Tickets are priced at $20 and allow a fan to see all four games in a single day. Tickets are available for purchase at the door (cash or credit accepted), from participating schools, or online from Ford Field via Ticketmaster – links to order tickets both days also are on the MHSAA Website football page. Spectators leaving the stadium will be required to purchase another ticket for re-entry. Infants able to be held in arms will be admitted without charge for this event. There will not be a public Will Call window.
Spectators may enter Ford Field at Gates A & B. Upon arrival in the building, fans will find their designated seating areas on the South side of the field if their team is the designated home team for their contest and on the North side for the designated visiting team. Home teams this weekend are Belleville, Warren De La Salle Collegiate, Mason, Harper Woods, Corunna, Almont, Jackson Lumen Christi and Ottawa Lake Whiteford. Brightly-lit video boards above the seating areas will display the names of the participating teams each day, and fans should sit on the side of the stadium where they see their school’s name. For general fans, the entire lower bowl of Ford Field will be open for the event.
Security measures also will be in place to help assure spectator safety. Fans will be subject to metal detector screening, and Ford Field personnel reserve the right to request patrons open their coats, bags and other item-carrying vessels for visual inspection and deny entrance to individuals who do not cooperate. Spectators should remove cell phones, cameras, keys and other large metal objects before passing through the metal detectors.
Items which fans will be prohibited from bringing into the building include, but are not limited to, the following:
* Purses larger than a clutch bag, coolers, briefcases, backpacks, book bags, diaper bags, fanny packs, cinch bags, grocery & paper bags; duffle bags, computer bags or luggage of any kind.
* Aerosol cans (hairspray, mace, pepper spray, etc.)
* Animals (except service animals to aid guests with disabilities)
* Balloons (air or helium)
* Balls (beach balls, footballs, etc.)
* Banners or large flags
* Cameras with lenses longer than five inches or any detachable lens. Selfie Sticks also are prohibited.
* Chairs including folding chairs or stools
* Decals, stickers, confetti or glitter
* Drones and/or remote-controlled aircraft
* Electronic equipment including laptop computers, video recorders (hand-held video cameras are allowed), tripods and wearable video cameras including Go Pros.
* Food, beverages – including water – or liquids (cans, bottles, boxes, flasks, etc.)
* Illegal substances
* Knives, pocketknives, box cutters, scissors, etc.
* Laser pointers
* Marijuana including medically prescribed electronic accessories or paraphernalia associated with marijuana or illegal narcotics use.
* Markers (permanent) and/or paint
* Noisemaking devices (bells, horns, kazoos, whistles, etc.)
* Objects that can be used as missiles or projectiles (sticks, poles, bats, clubs, Frisbees, etc.)
* Strollers and infant car seats or carriers
* Umbrellas (large size)
* Wrapped gifts
The following items may be permitted after inspection:
* Bags that are clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and do not exceed 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches, or a one-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc or similar). An exception will be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection at the Gate.
* Infant items in a clear bag (bottles and formula) only if accompanied by a child
* Binoculars and binoculars cases not exceeding 4½ inches by 6½ inches may be brought in via one of the clear plastic bag options.
* Cameras (lenses may not measure longer than five inches or be detachable, and no tripods or extension cords)
* Small radios (no larger than the size of a football and used with an earpiece)
* Small, compact umbrellas (must be placed securely under seat)
* Posters and signs without poles or sticks, or larger than what one person can hold.
* Tablets (iPads, Kindles, etc.)
* Seat cushions not exceeding 15 inches by 15 inches. Seat cushions also must not contain arm rests, zippers, pockets, flaps or metal backs.
The complete list of prohibited items can be found on the Detroit Lions website. Prohibited items that are discovered during security inspections at stadium entrances must be returned to the owner's vehicle or discarded. Items will not be held for later pickup.
Fans are reminded that all image taking (still and video) may be only for personal, non-commercial use.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.