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When pass interference is no longer a bad thing

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published September 19. 2013 4:00AM

All of us who love high school football, fans, coaches and media, have suffered through The Moment. It's that untimely epiphany when we learn the rules of the game - their wording, interpretation and application - are not necessarily uniform, thereby making our diatribes against the officials both loud and wrong at the same time.

Translation: Just because you see the rule on Sunday in the NFL doesn't mean it applies to Saturday in the NCAA or Friday in high school.

The latest example is a beauty.

The National Federation of State High School Associations, high school sports' governing body, rewrote the rules for pass interference in 2013. Offensive pass interference does not result in loss of down anymore. Defensive pass interference remains a 15-yard penalty, but is no longer an automatic first down.

It's the latter that's mind-numbing.

Not a first down anymore?

I've seen dumber things in my lifetime.

I just can't think of any at the moment.

I mean, what's to stop coaches from instructing their defensive players, "when in doubt, take 'em out" and teach them to commit intentional interference?

A sampling from the coaches:

• Ledyard coach Jim Buonocore: "If you get beat deep, you are now better off committing interference. Why give up six when you may not even give up a first down depending on the down and distance situation? The rule change certainly favors the defense. I am really not sure where or how this change came about."

• Waterford coach Mike Ellis: "If it's third-and-25, there is no reason to not commit pass interference because worst-case scenario, it's third-and-10, not a first down. Also, let's say it is a fourth-down play on the goal line. There is no reason not to commit pass interference because it will still be fourth down but just half the distance to the goal. The defense should take advantage of the opportunity."

• New London coach Duane Maranda: "I understand what they're trying to do with the rule and it makes sense if it's fourth-and-10 and someone commits pass interference on a five-yard pass. But there needs to be another stipulation that if the pass interference occurs at or after the down marker, then the penalty is 15 yards and an automatic first down. The way the rule is written, it could result in tackling receivers at the line of scrimmage on fourth and greater than 15 yards."

Now comes this from Montville coach Tanner Grove:

"There's another caveat to the rule," Grove said. "At the (preseason rules) meeting, we were told that if (officials) think you use excessive or unsportsmanlike force to do so, they can add another 15 yards at their own discretion. Lots of us asked questions about where we might see this additional, magic 15 yards. I hope I'm not on the sideline for it. That's as subjective of a call as there is in the sport right now."

And it would be done without the benefit of replay.

Beautiful.

Makes you wonder how much Grey Goose was consumed before someone at the federation slurred, "thissss isssss a great idea!!"

"Offensive and defensive pass interference and the penalty structure related to these fouls has been debated many times in recent years," said Brad Garrett, chair of the Federation Football Rules Committee and assistant executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association, on the Federation Web site.

"Proposals that either deleted the loss of down or the automatic first down, but not both, failed to gain support among committee members. The proposal to eliminate both components, thus not upsetting the balance between offense and defense, was the key factor in the adoption of the new rule."

For the record, that is a 70-word explanation from Mr. Garrett that, essentially, explained nothing.

And now we're stuck with a rule that encourages coaches to teach bad technique in desperate situations. Or in this case, no technique. Shouldn't we all agree rules that are counterintuitive to what's normally taught should be stricken?

The worst part: We'll see this more than once this season. The bigger the game, the more likely we are to see it. Just remember: The officials are only applying what's come down from on high. Forewarned is forearmed.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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