FHS rule 4-3 requires an illegally equipped player to leave the field and not return until the next legal substitution opportunity. For the first illegally equipped player, the coach is given a caution because at the pregame conference prior to the game, the coach states that all players will be legally equipped. Any subsequent illegally equipped players will also have to leave the field, and they, rather than the coach, will receive the caution.
High school equipment rules are in place for safety reasons and to prevent confusion by players and officials.
Referees can and should assist in preventing illegally equipped players.
At one time, NFHS rules required a formal check of players and their equipment prior to the game. However, since that rule no longer exists, an informal check of equipment made by walking by and observing all players during their pregame practice is recommended. If illegal equipment is noticed, a verbal recommendation for the removal of the illegal equipment should be made.
These are among the rules relating to an equipment check:
Jerseys and socks must be the proper color. White for the visiting team and dark (any color that contrasts with white) for the home team. This is especially important in a tournament where schools may be confused about their home/visiting team status.
Any tape on the socks must be similar in color to the sock at the part to which it is applied.
Numbers must be on the front of the jersey or shorts and the back of the jersey for all players including the goalkeepers (goalkeepers not having numbers is a common problem that can be solved before the game by taping numbers on the jerseys). The numbers must be at least six inches in height on the back of the jersey and at least four inches on the front of the jersey or shorts.
Shinguards may not be higher than two inches above the ankle. Players will often have the shinguards six inches or more above the ankle. This leaves the lower part of the leg open to injury from kicks by the opponent.
No jewelry including watches, necklaces, braces, rings, earrings and body jewelry is permitted. This includes jewelry that is taped down or covered by tape. Earrings covered by tape seem to be the most prevalent problem officials encounter. During the informal check, the officials should look for earlobes with tape on them. Medical bracelets or a medical medal worn around the neck and taped to the body may be worn.
Projecting metal or other hard or dangerous projections coming from equipment worn by the player including but not limited to hair control devices, knee braces, ankle braces, casts or hats are illegal. As the officiating team makes the check, look for anything worn by a player that is a danger to the player or to others. If it appears to be dangerous it should not be worn.
Hair control devices not made of soft material and worn for adornment are not permitted.
Articles required due to a disability are more nebulous. For example, hearing aids are permitted provided they do not create a threat of injury. Also, artificial limbs are legal as long as they are padded with a closed-cell slow recovery padding.
Eyeglasses can become an issue if a player is not wearing sports models. A regular pair of glasses can be dangerous if they are made of metal and/or have sharp edges on them. The referee must make sure the glasses are not dangerous while still providing the student-athlete every opportunity to participate in the match.
Each state association has the option of approving the use of a head covering provided it satisfies the criteria specified in rule four. This includes coverings worn for medical or cosmetic reasons. In this instance, a licensed physician must provide a written reason(s) for the covering and the covering must not be abrasive, hard or dangerous. The covering must be attached in a manner that it will be highly unlikely for it to come off.
States may also adopt the allowance of a head covering for religious reasons. If a player is required to wear such a covering, it must be approved by the state association.
In the pregame conference with coaches, the referee is required to ask the coaches if all players are legally and properly equipped. At this point, the referee should also mention a few examples of illegal equipment. This lets the coaches and captains know the wearing of illegal equipment will not be tolerated and they might do another check before sending players on to the field.
Finally, play shall not be stopped for an infringement of this rule, except where the infringement causes a dangerous situation. If a dangerous situation exists, play should be stopped immediately. If no immediate danger exists, the infringement should be penalized at the next stoppage.
Penalizing players and coaches for illegal equipment early in the season and early in each game will result in fewer illegal equipment violations later in the season. Every referee must enforce all the requirements of rule four. Allowing a player to wear dangerous equipment could lead to a serious injury and a possible claim against the referee. Never fall into the trap of complying with a player stating, “The referee during the last game let me wear this item.” If in the opinion of the referee an item is dangerous, it shall not be worn.
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