NFHS Addresses Balks, Facemasks

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.2, February 2005,

Starting with the upcoming high school season, there will be new rules governing balks, faceguards, and coaches’ uniforms.

“These are all good rules,” says Greg Brewer, Chairman of the NFHS Rules Committee, “but the balk rule is the one that will affect the game the most.”

The committee has repeatedly discussed balks over the last four years, and under the new rule, a pitcher trying to hold a runner on base may turn his shoulders toward a base only if he is in the set position with his foot on the pitching rubber. Turning his shoulders during the windup, after bringing his hands together, or after the stretch will now be called a balk.

“In changing the rule, the committee wanted to put high school rules in line with college and professional baseball,” says Brewer, who is also the Assistant Director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association. “This way, coaches at the high school level will be able to teach the same rules as their peers in summer leagues, colleges, and pro baseball. And high school athletes will not have to learn one rule to play at our level and a different rule to play at other levels.”

The committee also responded to the creation of a new NOCSAE standard for baseball batting helmets equipped with faceguards or facemasks. Now, athletes who wear faceguards on their helmets must choose guards that meet the NOCSAE standard. “It’s a safety issue as well as a liability issue,” says Brewer. “If an injury occurs due to the wearing of an improper faceguard, it could lead to a lawsuit.”

Though the committee discussed the possibility of faceguards becoming standard equipment for all baseball players, as they will be next season for softball players, there was little expectation that faceguards will become widely used on the baseball diamond. Brewer knows of no high school teams that use them consistently, and Eliot Hopkins, NFHS Assistant Director and liaison to the Baseball Rules Committee, has rarely seen them used, and then mostly in cases where athletes are trying to protect existing injuries.

“It’s been an unwritten rule that faceguards aren’t popular, and that it’s not cool to wear them,” says Hopkins. “We’re trying to change that, and we want baseball culture to give athletes the permission to use these faceguards. The members of the committee have given young people the okay to use faceguards for that added level of security.

“If an athlete wants to wear a faceguard, coaches should encourage him,” continues Hopkins. “This is one more way for coaches to help young people participate. If we can help a young person feel more comfortable at the plate, and if we can keep him participating in the game, we all win.”

In another change, the committee ruled that while coaches are allowed to wear street clothes in the dugout, if they enter the field of play, they must wear their team uniform. The only exception is when a coach needs to go on the field to check an injured athlete. “Previously, wearing uniforms was only mandatory in the coaching boxes,” says Brewer, “but now it applies to any time the coach leaves the dugout. This new rule is a gesture toward the integrity of the game and the tradition of professionalism among the participants.”

For more information about the 2005 rules changes, see: HYPERLINK