Jersey Color Rule Tops List of HS Changes

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.6, August 2004,

High school basketball programs have been getting more creative with the colors of their home jerseys, making it harder for officials to call games. That was the consensus of the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) Basketball Rules Committee at their meeting this spring. The committee responded by passing a rule requiring schools to use only white jerseys at home by the 2007-08 season.

The previous rule allowed the use of "light colored" home jerseys, and created problems when schools interpreted the term too broadly. "We’ve seen an increase in orange teams playing red teams, orange teams playing yellow teams—it really makes it difficult for officials," says Mary Struckhoff, NFHS Assistant Director and Staff Liaison to the Basketball Rules Committee. "The uniform change was probably the biggest rule change we passed this year. We’ve already heard some complaints, but we feel it’s necessary for the game."

By making the rule effective in 2007-08, the committee hopes to provide enough lead-time so that schools can order new white uniforms within their normal replacement cycle, and the NFHS is encouraging state associations to relax the rule when a school is financially unable to comply. "We don’t want this to create a hardship," Struckhoff says. "It’s meant to address programs that are ordering uniforms on a regular basis already."

Another rule change, effective with the 2004-05 season, prohibits players from leaving the bench when there is a potential conflict on the court, amending an existing rule that made it illegal for players to leave the bench once a fight actually broke out. The change comes in response to an incident last fall.

"During a game, two players were facing off and there was the potential for a fight, but no punches had been thrown," Struckhoff explains. "Both benches nearly cleared. That exacerbated the situation and turned a potential fight into a definite fight. We wanted to close that loophole, so we tweaked the language to say, ‘Players cannot leave the bench if a fight breaks out or may break out,’ and that’s a judgement call officials will have to make.

"Coaches absolutely need to be in control of their benches, and that’s something we’re trying to stress," she adds.

Another ’04-’05 rule change makes it illegal for players to obstruct an opponent’s vision whether or not the opponent has the ball. Prior to the change, it was legal to face-guard a player if he or she had the ball. "We decided that face guarding is obnoxious and unsporting, whether the player being guarded has the ball or not," Struckhoff explains. "The rule change says, ‘Play good defense. Wave your arms, create a diversion, and take the vision away from the passing lane. But if you put your hands too close to an opponent’s face, it’s going to be a foul whether they have the ball or not.’"

Intentionally kicking the ball with any part of the leg is now a violation, following another rule change. The previous rule made it illegal to intentionally kick the ball at or below the knee. "We changed the rule to include the thigh so that it would be easier for officials to administer," Struckhoff says.

A final rule change addresses the three-person officiating mechanic. Beginning in 2004-05, an official who calls a foul will now go tableside to better communicate with the coach. The same change took place two years ago in NCAA women’s basketball and one year ago in NCAA men’s basketball.

"The previous mechanic was designed to get the calling official away from the coach to avoid conflicts," Struckhoff says. "But what we’ve found is that when coaches have questions, they’re going to ask them no matter what. When the calling official goes to the other side, it leads to screaming and gesturing. When the official is closest to the coach, they can actually answer the questions."

Struckhoff, an NCAA women’s Division I official, says the new mechanic has worked well in the college game. "Officials and coaches both love it," she says. "It’s diffused some very volatile situations.

The committee will also be asking coaches and officials to pay increased attention to the "closely guarded" rule in 2004-05. "This is not a rule change, but we’re concerned that the rule is not being enforced properly," Struckhoff says. "That’s giving a major advantage to the offense, so we’re making it a point of emphasis. We’re asking officials to pay more attention to what constitutes six feet and to give themselves some reference points. It’s the distance from the free-throw line to the outside of the semi-circle, for example. Knowing that distance is the key to enforcing the rule properly."

In addition, coaches and officials need to be aware that the rule applies to multiple defenders. "For instance, if I’m guarding you within six feet and you’re dribbling, and there is a switch off a screen and now my teammate is guarding you, as long as we’ve maintained six feet, the rule applies. It doesn’t have to be the same defender, but many coaches and officials don’t realize that."

Another point of emphasis is legal player positioning. "With this one, we’re basically saying, play the game within the boundary lines," Struckhoff says. "We’re seeing problems with this both offensively and defensively."

Defensively, coaches are violating the rules when they teach their players to put a foot on the sideline or endline when they’re setting up to take contact. "Coaches have been teaching this for years, but it’s always been against the rules," Struckhoff says. "So now we want to emphasize that it’s not legal player positioning, and we want officials to watch for it and call it."

Offensive players are also taking advantage of the space outside the lines. "We see this most often when a player is running around a screen," Struckhoff says. "Players are going out of bounds, especially near the endlines. The NCAA recently made a rule change that says, if a player runs out of bounds without the ball and comes back in and is the first to touch it, it’s a violation.

"We want to emphasize that both offense and defense need to play within the boundary lines, without making a rule change yet," Struckhoff continues. "But we could make the same rule change if things are not cleaned up."

For a complete list of 2004-05 high school rules changes, go to