Instant replay might be coming to high school football playoff games in Massachusetts.
On Monday, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) approved seven rules revisions recommended by its football committee, chief among them an addition to Rule 1-3-7 to permit state associations to create instant-replay procedures for postseason games only.
Last August, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) voted to adopt NFHS rules for all sports, including football, effective for the 2019-20 school year. Previously, the MIAA has used NCAA rules for football, with a number of modifications. There are approximately 283 differentiations in the NFHS rulebook.
According to St. John’s Prep athletic director Jim O’Leary, chair of the MIAA’s Football Committee, there will be extensive discussions on the feasibility of implementing replay.
“This is a perfect example of something a state can elect to do or not to do,” said O’Leary, who guided Prep to a pair of Super Bowl titles in a 20-year coaching career.
“It comes down to whether you have the equipment. Right now, I don’t know how many high schools can do [instant replay] in the first rounds. When you get to [Super Bowls at] Gillette [Stadium], maybe it would be possible.”
MIAA associate director Richard Pearson, who attended the federation meetings in Indianapolis, said three states — Alabama, Minnesota, and New Jersey — plan to go forward with replay after introducing it on a trial basis the past two years.
“They presented their data, which was the basis [for the rule change],” said Pearson, MIAA liaison to the Football Committee. “The reviews were positive.”
The NFHS is switching to a 40-second clock (from 25 seconds) between downs and also approved two changes to reduce the risk of injury by defining the penalty rule for tripping or obstructing a ball carrier below the knees, and expanding the “horse-collar” foul to include the name-plate area directly below the back collar.
While rule changes to protect the health and safety of players are almost certainly going to be approved by the MIAA Football Committee, there is more gray area when it comes to changes related to technology.
“All these things are feasible, but someone has to pay for them,” said Milton coach Steve Dembowski, the coaches’ representative on the MIAA’s Football Committee.
“I can’t imagine that we’d be ready for instant replay this coming season when we can’t even figure out how we’re going to educate officials and coaches on the 283 rule differences.”
Pearson said the financial impact would have to be addressed.
He said a subcommittee has been formed that represents officials to put together a plan to transition to federation rules, with an educational component (training). The third meeting was held Thursday morning.
The MIAA Football Committee is scheduled to meet again March 6 and again in May. The 40-second rule change — which has been used on a trial basis in Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, and Tennessee — will not require a vote, but instant replay will. O’Leary and Pearson believe it was more likely that replay would be on the agenda for the May meeting.