No catchable ball, no contact, then no pass interference.
Those may be accurately paired circumstances in the game of football as most fans understand it, but they don't necessarily jive in the high school game. As Jeff Stern, chairman of the Eastern Wisconsin Officials Association pointed out, pass interference in high school can be called regardless of how "catchable" the ball is, and even if there is no contact.
"Most of what people get wrong are things they see on Saturday and Sunday," Stern said, speaking at an inaugural Media Night in Oak Creek on Aug. 6. He said the high school game features more than 300 differences - from equipment to field specifications to rules - compared to the NCAA game.
The event was sparsely attended but served as one of many ways Stern is trying to make the association, which trains officials in multiple sports, more visible.
One of the biggest adjustments in 2009 revolves around the "horse-collar" tackle, which had been legal at the high school level despite being illegal at the NCAA and NFL level. A defender can no longer tackle an offensive player by grabbing the area of padding behind a player's neck.
However, the defender will not be flagged if a teammate assists the tackle by more traditional means, if he grabs the player from the front or if he adopts a "necktie" tackling approach that includes grabbing a player all the way around the head (without contacting the face mask).
Stern provided a list of several rules differences frequently misunderstood by players, fans and even coaches.
A dwindling number of football officials has left the association near crisis mode.
"For my first 18 years of officiating, I never saw a varsity game," Stern said. "I'm jealous of the guys today who get that opportunity right away."
Stern said if 100 young officials began training today, more than half would be gone after the first year, and roughly 10 would remain after 10 years.
Know the rules
The high school game boasts several differences from NCAA and NFL football:
• The defense cannot score points in overtime or on extra points. The ball is dead as soon as the defense gains possession.
• It is a foul if the defensive player enters the neutral zone before the snap, even if he returns to his side before the snap.
• The passer is not excused from intentional grounding, even if he is outside the "tackle box." Similarly, a punter does not lose his roughing protection if he runs outside the tackle box.
• Receivers need only one foot inbounds to make a catch.
• A player in an ineligible position wearing a number between 50-79 cannot become eligible by reporting to a ref - the tackle-eligible play is not legal.
• Pass interference can be called even if the pass is not catchable and no contact is made.
• A defensive player may block a receiver until the receiver is at the same yard line or beyond the defender. The contact can occur five yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage.
• The penalty for defensive holding is 10 yards and does not include a first down.
• An unsuccessful field goal is like a punt - the ball goes to the nonkicking team at the dead-ball spot. The ball does not return to the previous spot.
• When a punt, kickoff or failed field goal attempt breaks the plane of the receiving team's goal line, the ball is immediately dead and ruled a touchback. It doesn't matter if a player's feet were in the field of play - the position of the ball determines the status of the ball.
• Blocking below the waste is only allowed for an extremely brief period of time.
Countdown is on
The football season begins Aug. 28. Among the games on the docket for opening weekend:
• Waukesha South at Brookfield East
• Waukesha North at Watertown
• Whitefish Bay at Waukesha West
• West Allis Central at Catholic Memorial
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