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Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017: NFHS announces safety-related football changes

   Leading off today: Good riddance.

   The so-called "pop-up" onside kick, coached poorly to the point of recklessness in some precincts, has been banished from high school football. Beginning next fall, driving the kickoff immediately to the ground so that the ball strikes the ground once and goes into the air "in the manner of a ball kicked directly off the tee" will be penalized as a dead-ball free-kick infraction, the National Federation of State High School Associations has announced.

   The NFHS football rules committee proposed that and other changes last month during annual meetings in Indianapolis. All rules changes were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

   In another safety-related change, the interpretation of what constitutes a blindside block was overhauled so that it will be a penalty in many instances when a player applies a hit (as opposed to a tackle) on a ball carrier who cannot see the defender coming. Unless initiated with open hands and/or inside the free-blocking zone, infractions drawing a 15-yard penalty will include:

    • A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass.

    • A receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not had time to clearly become a runner.

    • The intended receiver of a pass in the immediate aftermath of an interception or pass breakup.

    • A runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped.

    • A kickoff or punt returner attempting to catch or recover a kick, or one who has completed a catch or recovery and has not had time to protect himself.

   "As has been the case for many years, the NFHS Football Rules Committee continued to place their main emphasis on risk minimization," Todd Tharp, chair of the football rules committee said in the NFHS announcement. "With this new definition of a blindside block and the penalty to be assessed, the committee stresses the importance of proper coaching techniques under the rules and accurate enforcement by the game officials."

    • Also noteworthy: The days of a defending trying to steal the snap from the center are seemingly over. Defensive players can no longer touch the ball or make contact with the snapper's hands or arms until the snapper has released the ball.

   Change of venue: Unseasonably warm weather has forced the New York State Public High School Athletic Association to move next week's nordic skiing championships to Gore Mountain in the greater Lake George area. However, the alpine event will remain in Canandaigua at Bristol Mountain, which still has fresh snow.

   "While this is not ideal, it is always our goal to provide the best championship experience for our student-athletes in the safest environment and in the best possible venues," NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas said in the announcement.

   Both meets will be conducted Monday and Tuesday.

   Texas controversy: A transgender wrestler who qualified for the Texas' state girls tournament while transitioning from female to male has sparked intense debate ahead of Friday's opening match.

   Mack Beggs, 17, a junior at Euless Trinity High near Dallas, won a regional championship and improved to 52-0 after two opposing wrestlers forfeited over concerns that Beggs benefited from testosterone treatments that are part of the transition.

   Attorney Jim Baudhuin unsuccessfully sought injunctions before the district and regional meets to prevent Beggs from wrestling. Baudhuin now blames the University Interscholastic League, Texas' governing body for public school athletics and a vote a year ago by school administrators that required athletes to compete under the gender on their birth certificates.

   Baudhuin said his outlook changed after learning that Beggs may have asked the UIL to compete as a boy and was turned down. Baudhuin couldn't confirm that account.

   The UIL allows banned substances for medical reasons. Beggs' school district says it shared the athlete's medical records with the UIL and that the testosterone is "well below the allowed level," the Chicago Tribune reported.

   "The more I learn about this, the more I realize that she's just trying to live her life and her family is, too," Baudhuin said. "She's being forced into that position."

   Baudhuin said he would not seek a last-minute injunction to keep Beggs from competing Friday but did say he plans to pursue his lawsuit after the season is over.

   The UIL faces at least one lawsuit from a parent claiming girls are at risk of "imminent threat of bodily harm" by allowing Mack to remain in the 110-pound weight class.

   Speaking of wrestling: Pat McDonald at the Finger Lakes Times had an interesting column this week regarding wrestling attire.

   He reports that, though the traditional singlet is still being used almost exclusively in high school wrestling, there has been a push to allow competitors to choose a compression shirt and shorts during matches.

   The trend picked up momentum after the compression shirt/shorts combo was used at the FloNationals tournament. McDonald suggests a change could benefit the sport.

   "Right now, if a kid is a big fan of Cornell wrestling, for example, I don't think he's going to go out and buy a Big Red singlet and wear it to school," he wrote. "But if college teams had an Under Armour-type shirt for sale, I bet some young wrestling fans would wear those around."

   Said Marcus Whitman coach Terry Lucero: "One of the biggest things that detracts kids, especially upper weights, is the way they look in a singlet. That's a shame if we're not allowing kids to participate in the uniform that they would feel more comfortable in."

   Lucero is hoping the NYSPHSAA will give schools the option to wear the new uniforms. He's hoping school districts will go along with it.

   "I think it will really help our sport and I think we'll get more kids out."

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