Work to write NFHS rules continues with emphasis on fair play, minimizing risk

Over the past 15 years, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has launched several programs that have had a significant impact on educational programs across the country.

The NFHS Coach Education Program was launched in 2007. Expanding to include students, parents, administrators, officials, music directors and referees, and others, the NFHS Learning Center has now delivered over 15 million online courses through its website at Around 90 courses are now available, over 60 of them free, and the Concussion in Sports course has been taken by over six million people.

In 2013, the NFHS Network was launched as the first all-digital high school network providing live coverage of high school events at In its ninth year of coverage of sports, performing arts and other high school activities, over 500,000 events and over 30,000 post-season events will be covered. With its ever-growing coverage, the NFHS network has become the largest destination for high school sports programming in the nation.

These two ventures, along with the expansion of services and programs for students involved in performing arts programs, have been developed over the 102-year history of the NFHS to help schools and state associations ; however, none has been more enduring and important than the primary task of the organization since its inception in 1920 – write game rules for high school sports.

The NFHS began its role as the rule-making body for high school sports in the early 1930s with the first high school rules for football, followed by basketball and track and field. Today, the NFHS writes playing rules in 17 sports for boys and girls.

Over the past few months, the annual rule-writing process has begun as rules committees in the sports of football, volleyball, field hockey, soccer, swimming and diving, and spirit meet to discuss the status of these sports and any potential rule changes for the upcoming season. In addition, the NFHS writes rules of play in the sports of baseball, basketball, cross country, women’s gymnastics, ice hockey, men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, softball, athletics, water polo and wrestling.

This year, as has been the case since the NFHS became involved in this important task, the rule-writing process is being conducted with a triple objective: 1) minimizing the risk of injury, 2) maintaining strong traditions sport, and 3) encouraging sportsmanship.
With nearly eight million high school sports participants, NFHS rules are written for more individuals than all other levels of sports combined. As a result, risk minimization and the fundamentals of good sportsmanship are paramount to the NFHS rule-writing process and are often the distinguishing factors of rules at higher levels of the sport.

Football is perhaps the best example of the commitment to minimizing risk. In the mid-1970s, the NFHS was at the forefront of change when it banned spear-phishing in high school football. The 1976 rule overhaul changed the landscape of high school football from an injury perspective — from a high of 36 direct deaths in 1968 to an average of about two a year by 2018.

Some people have wondered why there are multiple codes of rules for a sport. Very simply, the NFHS rules for high school play must be different than those at the college and professional levels.

For example, while professional baseball is concerned with the speed at which a baseball exits the batter’s box (Velocity Exit Speed) and the distance the ball travels on a home run, the NFHS has adopted bat standards over the past 20 years to reduce batting speed. balls coming out of aluminum sticks. In wrestling, the NFHS has strict weight management plans in place to reduce the risk of health problems. In football, NFHS rules do not allow excessive celebratory displays after touchdowns that occur during NFL games.

In addition to risk minimization and fair play, the NFHS must also weigh the financial implications for schools when considering changes to equipment and uniforms. With schools ranging in size from under 100 to over 5,000 students, decisions must be made for the masses and cannot impose undue financial hardship on schools.

NFHS rules are also written with the understanding that proper behavior begins with the coach, who is responsible for ensuring that their team displays good sportsmanship. Many penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct within the team are first directed at the coach.

Now in her 90’sand year of writing the rules of play for high school sports, the NFHS continues its dedication to minimizing the risk of injury, sportsmanship, and upholding the sound traditions of sports.


Scott R. Banks