Fans at the high school football season opener Old Orchard Beach vs. Telstar on Sept. 5 will witness two things they’ve never seen. 

Yes, it will be the first game featuring eight-man football, but the state’s season-opening duel on the gridiron will also feature a new play clock rule.

The National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) Football Rules Committee voted to implement a new play clock system in January to have a more consistent time period in-between downs. The committee approved situations where 40 seconds will be placed on the play clock. Prior to the rule change, the ball was marked ready-for-play when, after it had been placed for a down, the referee gave a signal and the 25-second count began. 

“(The rule change) will be interesting because you always wonder how new rules will impact the game,” Biddeford football head coach Brian Curit said. “It might be something that is a real issue, but it also could be something that doesn’t really affect the way we do things.”

This season, per the Maine Principals’ Association, the 40-second clock will start as soon as the play ends and the ball is dead. The covering official will raise his arm straight up indicating that the ball is dead and signal for the start of the play clock. The clock operator will immediately start the clock — unless there is an administrative stoppage such as an injury, penalty assessment, or following a timeout — that requires the 25-second time period to reset.

The NFHS determined that to implement and operate the rule properly, games will need a five-man officiating crew. Almost all varsity games in Maine provide five-man crews, but Allan Snell, a liaison for the football committee for the MPA, said there is the occasional match where five officials can’t be available. 

“If that happens, the field judge is responsible,” Snell said. “ And they have to coordinate with the back judge.” 

There is also a financial burden for schools if the football teams hope to operate the rule smoothly because they would have to buy separate clock systems. Implementing the rule without a clock system adds to an orchestration that already requires a few moving parts. 

During the game, both teams need well-trained ball personnel ready to give the officials game balls. The personnel can’t interfere with the chain crew, who are required to hustle to each spot of the ball to help the officials rule on a spot. Then, the officials have to determine the correct spot of the ball to help start a manual clock in Maine’s case. A new clock system would help smooth over the rule.

The rule change has been driven by larger states because they have higher attendances, better facilities and more money.  

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case in Maine.

As of Aug. 25, no high school in the state had purchased a clock system, said Snell. The additional cost is the primary reason why schools have withheld spending, and it’s also why the MPA has voted against the rule change in the past. The MPA football committee sent a letter to the federation saying they didn’t support the rule. In the note, the MPA asked if the rule change did get passed, they hoped to make it a state option so schools could have a choice to not use it.

“You would also need someone in the booth operating it,” Snell said. “So there’s a cost involved and we have a lot of teams that are struggling just the way it is.”

“They chose to pass it and not make it a state option, so you have to implement it,” Snell said. “But we have stated that we’re only doing the rule for only varsity games unless the JV or freshmen games have five-man crews.”

Curit thinks the rule change will cause teams and coaching staffs to be more alert than in prior seasons.

“I think the most interesting part of it will be when the officials try to get to the ball (after a play) with players all around,” Curit said. “I also have a very large coaching staff, so we’re all going to have to be on the same page and trained properly for the rule.”


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