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New For 2022 - Intentional Grounding


Bobref
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Probably the most publicized rules change in high school football this season is the new “exception” to the intentional grounding rule. This post will attempt to explain the new rule, and to offer some tips on how to properly officiate it.

Under Rule 7-2-2d, it is a foul when a player intentionally throws a forward pass into an area not occupied by an eligible offensive receiver, or intentionally incompletes a pass to save loss of yardage or to conserve time. New in 2022 is Exception 7-2-2d(2), which provides “It is legal for a player to conserve yardage by intentionally throwing an incomplete forward pass if (a) the passer has been beyond the lateral boundary of the free blocking zone (FBZ) as established at the snap, and (b) the pass reaches the neutral zone, including its extension beyond the sideline.

A few important things to keep in mind when officiating this rule, whether you’re officiating on the field, from the stands, or on TV or streaming video 😂.

First, the lateral extent of the FBZ is 4 yds. on either side of the spot of the snap. Note that, while for blocking purposes an offensive player is considered to be within the FBZ if any part of his body is in the FBZ at the snap, that doesn’t matter for this rule. It’s 4 yds. and not an inch more.

Second, the passer must go beyond the lateral extent of the FBZ at any time during the down  for the exception to apply. Thus, the passer can go beyond the 4 yds., then circle back and be inside the 4 yd. lateral extent when he throws the pass, and the exception still applies.

Finally, for the exception to apply, the forward pass must reach the neutral zone, including the neutral zone extended across the sideline, not the line of scrimmage. This means the pass can actually land almost a foot short of the LOS and the exception still applies.

Officiating this play requires the Referee to know where that 4 yd. lateral extent ends. I say “Referee,” because that determination is solely the responsibility of the guy with the white hat. No one else can make that determination. Since the ball can be snapped anywhere between the hash marks, this determination can be difficult. Here are some tips that will help.

1.  As a general “rule of thumb,” if the passer takes three full steps laterally, he has likely left the FBZ.

2.  R can use landmarks on the field to help. The distance between a hash mark and the nearest goal post upright is 5 yards. The uprights are 23’4” apart, just a hair short of 4 yds. from the center of the field. If the ball is snapped from the center of the field, on an upright,  or from either hash, R can use these landmarks to help gauge distances. Umpires take note. You can help your R by spotting the ball on these landmarks if possible.

3.  Mechanically, R must add a step to his routine, pre-snap checklist. Not only must he now check clock status, down and distance, count the offense and signal the count, check substitutions and formation, but he must also establish in his own mind where the lateral extent of the FBZ is before every snap.

4.  As for determining whether the pass reached the neutral zone, if it’s close, that’s going to be the call of the wing official. As before, if there’s no receiver in the area, he should report that to R at the conclusion of the play. Now, included in that report, he should also indicate whether the pass reached the neutral zone. This report should be given even if the ball reached the neutral zone. If that’s the case, and R is working with a field mike, R should announce “There is no foul for intentional grounding, as the passer went beyond the FBZ and the pass reached the neutral zone.”

5.  The “when in doubt” has not changed. When in doubt, it is not intentional grounding. Thus if the determination cannot be made with high confidence, the passer has gone beyond the lateral extent of the FBZ and/or the pass did reach the neutral zone, or neutral zone extended.

The Rules Committee added the exception after years of study, as consistent with the NF’s pervasive philosophy of “risk minimization.

Got some questions about the new rule? Post them here.

 

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On 7/10/2022 at 8:13 AM, Bobref said:

Finally, for the exception to apply, the forward pass must reach the neutral zone, including the neutral zone extended across the sideline, not the line of scrimmage. This means the pass can actually land almost a foot short of the LOS and the exception still applies.

 

I like the rule change. Heck, I'm so old I got flagged for a direct from center "spike" to kill the clock in the last two minutes.  The kind man in the white hat explained to me that was legal on Sundays, but not on Fridays.  

But can you clarify the above? I could see going out of bounds a foot short of the LOS, but I'm having trouble picturing a ball that lands (which I interpret as hit the ground) short of the LOS still gaining the exception.  

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1 hour ago, oldtimeqb said:

I like the rule change. Heck, I'm so old I got flagged for a direct from center "spike" to kill the clock in the last two minutes.  The kind man in the white hat explained to me that was legal on Sundays, but not on Fridays.  

But can you clarify the above? I could see going out of bounds a foot short of the LOS, but I'm having trouble picturing a ball that lands (which I interpret as hit the ground) short of the LOS still gaining the exception.  

The rule says the pass must reach the neutral zone, not the LOS. The latter is marked by the foremost point of the football. The firmer is the space between the foremost point of the ball (the LOS) and the rearmost point of the ball. The ball can be up to 11-7/16” on its long axis. Thus the pass is legal if it reaches the rearmost point of the ball, which can be almost a foot short of the LOS.

As they say, it’s a “game of inches.”

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On the IHSAA Football Officials’ Facebook page, someone asked a question that came up in our observers’ video conference last evening with Asst. Commissioner Faulkens. If the passer legally grounds the ball under the new exception, can you still have a foul for ineligible downfield? The official IHSAA interpretation is that the enforcement of the rule relating to ineligibles downfield on a pass play applies even if the pass is legally grounded. The new exception has no affect on the rule prohibiting ineligible players from going downfield on a forward pass that reaches the neutral zone.

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Received another official interpretation relating to this rule. Here’s the example:

Team A runs a “flea flicker,” where the ball is handed to a wingback who lined up outside the FBZ, received a handoff which resulted in him carrying the ball outside the lateral extent of the FBZ, and then he tosses a backward pass to the QB, who has remained inside the lateral extent of the FBZ. The QB then throws a forward pass into Row 6 of the stands, which is beyond the neutral zone extended through the sideline. The official IHSAA interpretation is that since the ball left the FBZ, the exception now applies regardless of the position of the passer when the forward pass is eventually thrown.

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On 7/12/2022 at 11:10 PM, Bobref said:

Received another official interpretation relating to this rule. Here’s the example:

Team A runs a “flea flicker,” where the ball is handed to a wingback who lined up outside the FBZ, received a handoff which resulted in him carrying the ball outside the lateral extent of the FBZ, and then he tosses a backward pass to the QB, who has remained inside the lateral extent of the FBZ. The QB then throws a forward pass into Row 6 of the stands, which is beyond the neutral zone extended through the sideline. The official IHSAA interpretation is that since the ball left the FBZ, the exception now applies regardless of the position of the passer when the forward pass is eventually thrown.

The “official “ interpretation is how I believe the rule  should be BUT it is 100% not the way the rule is written.  

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On 7/15/2022 at 10:52 PM, Huge Football Fan said:

The “official “ interpretation is how I believe the rule  should be BUT it is 100% not the way the rule is written.  

You are correct, but this was the intent of the rules committee when they passed the rule. It just didn't make it clearly in the final draft of the rule. I believe the NFHS has also posted this interpretation and they plan to clarify it next year in the rule. It's a side effect of the rule allowing someone other than the person who originally received the snap to legally dump the ball prior to losing player possession. They opened up this loophole. They also allowed a RB on a sweep to be able to dump the ball if he's at risk of losing yardage. I don't expect either of these to happen often, but it would be much more logical to only allow the original snap receiver to do this.

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