1. Sportsmanship

  2. Intentional Grounding

  3. Ineligible Downfield and Line of Scrimmage Formation


When considering sportsmanship, many may first think only of the game participants (athletes and coaches) within the timeframe of the game. However, proper sportsmanship also includes the pregame warm-up period, postgame handshake activity, spectator behavior (both students and adults), parents of athletes, public-address announcements and announcers, and bands. All of the above constituents have a role in promoting good sportsmanship.

Players and coaches are the most visible in their displays of sportsmanship. Their behavior sets the tone for fans, game officials and others. As recognizable personalities, it is an expectation that coaches model good behavior. Players must represent their schools and communities as ambassadors of good sporting behavior beginning with pregame activities and concluding with end-of-game activities.

Game officials generally do not assume control until taking the field approximately 30 minutes prior to the scheduled kickoff. Therefore, coaching staffs and game administrators must be vigilant and responsible for ensuring proper sportsmanship during this time. Once the contest begins, school administrators are responsible for the proper conduct of all spectators. This may take the form of reading a sportsmanship public-address announcement prior to the contest and remaining vigilant for possible issues during the contest. Student bodies and spectators in general should be reminded that any behaviors conducted at the expense of the opponents is unacceptable and will be addressed accordingly.

Public-address announcers are responsible for delivering pertinent game-related information – not to be a play-by-play person or cheerleader. Taking liberties with biased and/or inflammatory announcements must not be tolerated. Their purpose is not to editorialize the quality of play or incite the home crowd in any way.

Working with the band/music director, the school administration must set proper guidelines and ensure compliance regarding when live or recorded music may be utilized.

Good sportsmanship does not occur on its own. Only with specific planning and coordination by all constituents is good sportsmanship achievable. Good sportsmanship is about respect. Good sports win with humility, lose with grace and do both with dignity.

Intentional Grounding

Due to the growing prevalence of televised football, one of the most misunderstood rules at the high school level is intentional grounding. Under NFHS rules, intentional grounding is a foul whenever a legal forward pass is thrown into an area not occupied by an eligible receiver, or when a pass is thrown to prevent a loss of yardage or to conserve time. The only exception to this rule is when the passer intentionally throws the ball forward to the ground immediately after receiving the snap.

Under NFHS rules, it is a foul if there was no eligible receiver in the area of the pass, regardless of the passer’s position on the field. Across the country, we are seeing more high school quarterbacks throw the ball away to avoid a sack when outside the pocket, thinking this is legal based on what is seen on television. High school referees need to be aware of these situations and, with the help of the line judge and linesman, make the correct call under NFHS football rules. This is a foul that should be called after the game officials have gathered and discussed the play. When a foul does occur, the penalty flag needs to be thrown by the referee. The penalty is 5 yards from the spot of the foul and a loss of down.

Ineligible Downfield and Line of Scrimmage Formation

In order for the offensive team to have a legal scrimmage formation at the snap (assuming the numbering exception is not being used), at least five Team A players, numbered 50-79, must be on the line of scrimmage. Also, no more than four Team A players may be backs. Only one player may not be on the line but still penetrate the vertical plane through the waistline of his nearest teammate who is on the line. This player must be in position to receive a hand-to-hand snap, but does not have to actually receive it. By rule, he is the only player allowed to be positioned in “no man’s land” at the snap. All other players not on the line must be clearly positioned as backs.

Some clarification was recently provided in identifying when an ineligible Team A player is illegally downfield on a pass play. By rule, ineligible Team A players may not advance beyond the expanded neutral zone on a legal forward pass play before a legal forward pass that crosses the neutral zone is in flight. The neutral zone expands 2 yards behind the defensive line of scrimmage following the snap. The position of the ineligible Team A player at the moment of the legal pass is the primary factor in determining if the player is illegally downfield. When identifying Team A players who are illegally downfield, it is important to make sure that the Team A player is clearly beyond the expanded neutral zone (2 yards) at the moment that the pass is in flight. Players can travel multiple yards in a quick period of time. These players can be legally within the expanded neutral zone when the pass is thrown but beyond as the pass moves downfield. If B touches the pass in or behind the neutral zone, this restriction is terminated.