A focus on risk minimization and substitutions highlighted the January 25-26 meeting of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Soccer Rules Committee.


The most important change made was a clarification from the 2003 rules meeting regarding goal post padding. "Last year, we permitted goal post padding for the first time," said Tim Flannery, NFHS assistant director and liaison to the NFHS Soccer Rules Committee. "This year, we clarified that rule by adding the specifications for the padding."


That clarification is of Rule 1-4-1, and states that the padding must be commercially manufactured and properly secured. In addition, it will have to be white, with a maximum thickness of one inch and a minimum height of 72 inches. No markings other than a single manufacturer's identification or logo may appear on the goal post padding. Since presently there is no clarification of the goal post padding rule, this addition will be a factor in risk minimization.


Another major rule that deals with risk minimization is Rule 4-1-1, which was changed to include that shinguards must be age- and size-appropriate. Previously, the rule only required that they be age-appropriate. This addition will assist officials in determining the appropriateness of shinguard size, because many manufacturers currently size shinguards according to standards such as youth, medium or adult.


A second major issue at this year's meeting dealt with substitutions. A line in Rule 3-3-1(d)2 pertaining to injured players on the field and their removal from the game was changed to allow a team to make a replacement for an injured player whether that player was specifically attended to on the field or after he or she was helped off the field. Since there are often minor injuries in which play is stopped and the player seeks to leave without needing to be attended to on the field (as in a bleeding situation), this proposal would allow the coach to replace the injured player or opt to play short.


Also along the lines of substitution, an addition to Rule 3-3-3 states that the team not in possession of the ball may substitute an unlimited number of players on a corner kick if the team in possession of the ball is also substituting [provided the substitutions have checked in per 3-4-1(d)]. This addition will increase both effective playing time and participation because currently there is not a good reason for disallowing substitutions for the defenders of a corner kick in which the kicking team has already chosen to substitute. This rule change will help avoid repetitive, unnecessary substitution stoppages.


"Allowing substitutes on corner kicks is a big change," Flannery said. "It now puts us [NFHS] in line with the NCAA."


A change to Rule 5-3-1(b) will delete the phrase "and assists" to limit the responsibilities of the referee to confirming goals for the scorekeeper when crediting players, rather than both goals and assists, as the current rule states. This adjustment is appropriate because the officiating crew should not be responsible for noting assists when they do not play a significant role with respect to the rules of the game.


Also, a new rule has been added with regard to assistant referee signals used in the diagonal system of officiating. The rule states that if the assistant referee sees a foul or misconduct, he or she will indicate this by holding the flag vertically until acknowledged by the referee. Once acknowledged, the assistant referee will wiggle the flag and point the flag in the direction where the free kick will take place.


In addition, each year the committee identifies certain aspects of the rules that aren't being changed, but are being stressed in the Points of Emphasis. This year, the Points of Emphasis focused on six central themes: sportsmanship, profanity, game administration, ethics, team officiating and overall game safety.


"The committee continues to stress the importance for players and coaches to model good sporting behavior in all soccer contests," said Dr. Robert Lombardi, associate executive director of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and chairman of the NFHS Soccer Rules Committee. "This year, as we have for the past several years, the committee continues to place emphasis on minimizing risk in soccer."


Soccer is the fifth-most popular sport for boys at the high school level with 345,156 participants, according to the 2002-03 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the NFHS. It ranks seventh in terms of school sponsorship with 10,103. On the girls side, it also is fifth in popularity with 301,450 participants in 9,299 schools.