Ask the Official: Rules vary because each level is governed by a different organization

By Bill LeMonnier | Posted 10/1/2018

Why are the rules that high school players play under on Friday nights so different than the ones in the NFL on Sunday? Wouldn’t it make sense for everyone to play under the same rules?

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the NCAA and the NFL govern the rule books at the high school, college and pro levels, respectively. Youth football typically play under NFHS rules, though some will compete under the NCAA rule book.

You are correct that rules differ in terms of penalty enforcement, clock management and other areas. The reason is that each of these governing organizations create rules around a game that they feel are appropriate to that age and skill level. Also, all three were originally written about a century ago – give or take some years – and have evolved in different areas.

One rule that all three levels have pretty much agreed upon in the last few years is illegal helmet contact. This is one example, I believe, of the organizations taking the correct approach at one of the most important issues in our sport.

I recommend you read the USA Football 11-player Tackle Football Rules Guide, which outlines the differences in rules enforcement for youth/high school, college and NFL. Feel free to download this and share it with your coaches, players, parents and administration. I hope it helps.

You can download it here:

What is legal vs. illegal when it comes to a runner stiff arming a defender?

A ball-carrier has the right to stick his arm out and block or push away a defender as long as the runner doesn’t:

  • Grab the facemask
  • Punch a defender in the face or facemask with a forceful jab

The ball-carrier also cannot grab a defender by a part of his uniform – say the collar – and hold or thrust the defender.

For other players on the field, any prolonged contact with the hands to the face/facemask or any forceful jab to the face/facemask is illegal as well.

USA Football Rules Editor Bill LeMonnier is a former college referee who currently serves as an ESPN NCAA rules analyst. Click here to ask Bill a question. Make sure to put “Ask the Official” in the subject line.