Football is evolving.

New research on concussions and brain injuries has guided the Arizona Interscholastic Association to make some safety-related changes to the game over the offseason.

About 25 coaches attended Southern Arizona’s inaugural AIA football coaches meeting at Cienega High School on Saturday afternoon to learn, discuss and get clarification on the new rules.

Officials from the AIA talked about recruiting policies, contact rules and the possibility of placing time limits on practices.

It’s complex.

Players are currently allowed to play in 10 regular-season games per year, whether it’s as a member of the freshman, junior varsity or varsity teams. Officials told coaches they might limit players to quarters rather than games in the future.

When a player or coach is ejected from a game, the AIA reviews it and can reverse its decision. Now, if an ejection affects the playoffs — in Week 10 or in the postseason — coaches can appeal.

Desert View coach Robert Bonillas pointed out since the playoffs are based on a power point system and every week matters, appeals should be allowed throughout the year.

The Star attended the meeting on Saturday. Here are three things we learned:


Officials will be on the lookout for targeting — the act of intentionally spearing an opponent — more than they were in the past.

If a player leads with the helmet, thrusts or strikes a player above the shoulder pads or makes helmet-to-helmet contact, it will be a penalty.

Officials will be trained with instructional videos so they’re clear on what is targeting and what is a clean hit. Their videos show over 30 different examples of penalties and clean plays.

The interpretation of the rule will be important: Penalties include a loss of 15 yards and quite possibly an ejection, which includes an automatic one-game suspension.

Special teams formations

Rules 6-1—3b and 6-1—3c both have to do with the positioning of players on free kick formations.

Starting this year, there will need to be at least four players on each side of the ball. In order to avoid more collisions on special teams, coaches can no longer come out stacked in uneven formations or “bunch” players.

All players on the team kicking off will have to be in a set position on the 40-yard line, with only the kicker allowed to line up five yards behind. Players who line up behind or even with the kicker will be penalized 10 yards.

Few coaches took issue with the new changes. Cienega’s Nemer Hassey said they were pretty standard, and made with the safety of players in mind.

Up for discussion

Hassey, a member of the AIA Football Advisory Committee, thinks more rules should be added in coming years.

Hassey believes if a quarterback is out of the tackle box he should be allowed to throw the ball away without being penalized for intentional grounding, like in the NFL and NCAA. Currently, high school quarterbacks have to throw to an eligible receiver or risk being penalized.

“You want to talk about safety: This is one of the safest thing for a quarterback,” Hassey said.