Football is football, right?
You block, you tackle, you run, you pass, you catch, every once in a while you kick. Sure, there's a long rule book, but the game is pretty much the game, regardless of where you play, right?
Well, maybe not.
For example, when Cocoa (Fla.)
and Douglass (Oklahoma City)
come to Texas for the Kirk Herbstreit Classic Sept. 5 at Cowboys Stadium, they'll be playing by different rules than they're used to. The reason? Their opponents are from Texas — Skyline (Dallas)
and DeSoto (Texas)
, respectively) — and Texas high schools use the NCAA rule book, not the National Federation of State High School Associations rule book.
And yes, that matters, even though many of the differences are of interest only to officials (where to start marching off penalties, substitution rules, etc.). In fact, it could be argued that almost all of the rule differences, which are outlined in a nine-page release, have little or no impact on the way game is played.
"The biggest difference is that you can cut block anyone on the field at any time," said Dave Peck, who brought his Bingham (South Jordan, Utah)
team down to play in the Herbstreit Classic two years ago.
That doesn't sound like a really big deal — after all, a block is a block, right?
To a certain extent, yes, but it's also a matter of expectations. A defensive back who has never been blocked below the waist (a cut block is just that) in his high school career isn't going to be expecting that 220-pound lineman to suddenly dive for his knees.
"We'd be in position to make a play and our legs would be gone," Peck said about his 2009 game against Trinity – which was the only game Bingham lost that year, and in fact is the only game the Miners have lost in the past two seasons.
Even though it was a big game, and Bingham was playing the first-ever high school game in Cowboys Stadium, Peck couldn't focus on preparing his players for cut blocks. "You're not going to spend time teaching bad habits," he said.
But why does Texas use the NCAA rules, unlike every other state but Massachusetts?
"When we started playing football in Texas," said Mark Cousins, director of athletics for the Texas high school governing body, the University Interscholastic League. "There was no federation. So we used NCAA rules and haven't ever changed."
And of course, there is a flip side when Texas teams go out of state. Then, they're the ones having to adjust their techniques and coaching, and they're the ones surprised by what happens on the field.
Either way, it's a big advantage for the home team.
"We felt like we had two strikes against us," said Peck, "because of the rules and they used Texas refs."
To make it clear, it's not that Peck is claiming the refs were biased, it's just that officials in different areas call similar plays in different ways. And it just goes to show that blocking isn't always blocking, at least in Texas and Massachusetts.
* Speaking of rule differences, the National Federation just released its annual updates in several sports, starting with a welcome change of one of its most ludicrous rules. Before this year, if a track athlete wore compression shorts that had stitching that was a different color than the shorts, it was illegal, and the athlete could be disqualified. Presumably the different color stitching blinded the opposition … or something.
And if you think that rule was never enforced, you're wrong. Athletes lost medals and teams lost trophies because of a few visible stitches, but no longer. In addition, the penalty for wearing jewelry has been scaled back as well, so there will be a little more fashion freedom come the spring.
* Batters in softball will no longer be able to swing at white softballs, as only optic yellow, whatever that might be, is now legal. Batters will, however, be able to swing bats with angled knobs. They don't have be at a 90-degree angle to the handle any more.
But it will make even more sense to make sure the bats are legal, because it's no longer just an automatic out for using an illegal piece of metal. Now, both the player and head coach will be ejected if an illegal bat is used.
Finally, like track athletes, softball players will be able to do a little more with their outfits. Caps, visors, sweatbands and ribbons no longer have to be of a solid color, nor do they have to be the same for all team members. There are still some restrictions: The colors can only be white, black, beige or the school colors, but that's one less thing for umpires to have to worry about.
* Baseball umpires have one less thing to worry about as well, as the new rules shift the responsibility to legal bats to the head coaches. Coaches can ask umpires to check equipment, but the initial responsibility for bats, helmets, etc., now lies with the head coach.