New IDeas

Same Game, New Rules

Everything team dealers should know about rules changes for high school sports.

Seasons come and go, as do the coaches that coach the teams and the athletes that play the sports. Other elements of sports that also change from time to time are the rules. In recent months, the various rules committees of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), have made a number of rules changes that impact uniforms, gear, and equipment used in football, field hockey, volleyball, wrestling, basketball, ice hockey, fast-pitch softball, track and field, cross-country, and both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse.  When those changes take effect varies from sport to sport, but they will impact the team sports business in the coming seasons.


With regard to uniforms, the NFHS Football Rules Committee has clarified the size requirements for numbers on jerseys through the 2023 season and added a new requirement, effective with the 2024 season. Clarifications to Rule 1-5-1c , which are in effect through the 2023 season, state that the numbers, inclusive of any border, shall be centered horizontally at least eight inches and 10 inches high on front and back, respectively.

In addition, the entire body of the number (the continuous horizontal bars and vertical strokes) exclusive of any border(s) shall be approximately 1.5-inches wide. Finally, through the 2023 season, the body of the number (the continuous horizontal bars and vertical strokes) shall be either: (a) a continuous color(s) contrasting with the jersey color; or (b) the same color(s) as the jersey with a minimum of one border that is at least ¼-inch in width of a single solid contrasting color.

Effective with the 2024 season, the entire body of the number (the continuous horizontal bars and vertical strokes) of the number shall be a single solid color that clearly contrasts with the body color of the jersey.

“The purpose of numbers on jerseys is to provide clear identification of players,” explains Bob Colgate, NFHS director of sports and sports medicine and staff liaison to the NFHS Football Rules Committee. “In order to enhance the ability to easily identify players, the committee has clarified the size requirements for jersey numbers through the 2023 season and added a new requirement for the 2024 season.”


The biggest area of concern for the NFHS’s Field Hockey Rules Committee is eye protection.

“The Field Hockey Rules Committee continues to examine current trends of the game and work on overall consistency in the rules book,” says Julie Cochran, NFHS director of sports and liaison to the NFHS Field Hockey Rules Committee. “While the sport continues to prosper, there are areas such as eye protection where the committee feels it is best to continue to research options for the betterment of the sport.”

The committee voted to delay the requirement for all eye protection to be permanently labeled with the ASTM 2713 standard for field hockey at the time of manufacture. Rule 1-6-5, which previously had an implementation date of January 1, 2019, now will require permanent labeling beginning in the 2020 season.

“The adjusted date to permanently label goggles is a response to the limited supply currently on the market,” adds Cochran. “The committee believed the extension of the timeline will assist production and distribution to help those purchasing new goggles.”


The powers that be in high school volleyball have made rules changes that focus on bringing a sense of regularity to the uniform.

The changes in uniform rules reorganizes the uniform rule to improve understanding and eliminate solid-colored uniform requirements. Rule 4-2-1, which permits teammates to wear like-colored uniform pieces, was expanded to include all uniforms and involves nine guidelines.

Rule 4-2-1a states that all uniform tops (with the exception of the libero) and bottoms shall be like-colored. It permits the top and/or bottom of all uniforms to include the school’s name, nickname, logo, mascot and/or team member’s name. In doing so, a single mascot reference and/or school name may be placed on the sleeve(s), and shall not exceed either four inches by four inches or three inches by five inches.

“The rules committee was very deliberate and measured in their language choices to ensure that all currently compliant libero and team uniforms will be compliant under the new rule,” notes Lindsey Atkinson, NFHS director of sports and liaison to the Volleyball Rules Committee. “The committee believes that this new rule will, in fact, be easier to apply and require less policing by both officials and state associations.”

In addition, the libero’s uniform must clearly contrast from the predominant color(s) of the team uniform top, excluding trim. The libero’s uniform top cannot be made up solely of the same predominant color(s) of the team’s uniform top, even if the like color(s) are placed differently on the uniform top. Furthermore, numbers shall meet a specification that removes the option for players to wear No. 00 to eliminate confusion surrounding the signaling of the number.

Beginning July 1, 2023, a plain, Arabic numeral of a solid, clearly contrasting color from the body of the uniform will be required. The change eliminates the use of a border to create the number contrast, allowing officials and scorers to easily identify uniforms numbers while aligning the rule with that of other rules codes.


A prior rules change involving baseballs and chest/body protectors will take effect on January 1, 2020. As of that date, all baseballs and chest/body protectors used in high school baseball competition shall meet the NOCSAE standard at the time of manufacture.

“The game is in the best shape it has ever been in the history of high school baseball,” says Elliot Hopkins, NFHS director of sports and student services and liaison to the NFHS Baseball Rules Committee. “This has allowed coaches to coach, players to play and umpires to umpire.”


Apparel is the focus of wrestling rules changes in an effort to ensure that male and female wrestlers are properly attired on the mat during competition.

All contestants wearing a one-piece singlet need to wear a suitable undergarment that completely covers the buttocks and groin area. Female wrestlers wearing a one-piece singlet shall wear a form-fitted compression undergarment that completely covers their breasts.

In other uniform and equipment changes, if shoelaces come undone, the penalty is an automatic stalling call. In addition, hair-treatment items that are hard and/or abrasive -- such as beads, bobby pins, barrettes, pins and hair clips -- shall not be permitted. A legal hair-controlled device, such as a rubber band, shall be secured so as not to come out readily during competition.

“Hair that is manipulated poses no threat to either wrestler,” said Hopkins. “It is neither abrasive nor cumbersome. However, physical hair treatments do present a risk to either wrestler due to the hardness, texture or abrasiveness, and should not be allowed.”


Five of the seven rules changes in high school basketball concern player equipment, including new uniform provisions that will be required in the 2024-25 season.

Effective with the 2024-25 season, the number on the jersey can no longer be the same color as the jersey itself. Currently, the number can be the same color as the jersey, if it is bordered by a contrasting color. Despite the contrasting-color border, the committee said the number is still difficult to see in many cases.

A five-year implementation date was approved to allow schools time to budget for purchasing new uniforms.  

A new rule also provides recommendations for use of a mouthguard. Though not required, the committee noted that state associations may deem a tooth and mouth protector required equipment.

A note was added to Rule 3-5-5 to permit folding or rolling the shorts at the natural waistband seam. The new language does state that the shorts have to be in compliance a rule that restricts uniform pants/skirts to one visible manufacturer’s logo/trademark/reference.

According to Theresia Wynns, NFHS director of sports and officials and liaison to the Basketball Rules Committee, this addition modernizes the rule and allows players to adjust the shorts in a manner that serves no harm to the game or its integrity.

The other equipment changes deal with headbands and hair-control devices. The maximum width of the headband was expanded from two inches to three inches to be consistent with the rules for volleyball and accommodate athletes who play both sports. In addition, hair-control devices are not required to meet color restrictions.  


The NFHS Ice Hockey Rules Committee recommended three changes related to equipment to expand the maximum length of a player’s stick from 63 to 65 inches and the goalkeeper’s stick from 26 to 28 inches. Additionally, a rule now emphasizes the requirement that all players, including goalkeepers, must wear helmets and facemasks that meet HECC/ASTM standards at the time of manufacture.

“From an awareness and educational standpoint, the committee continues to push the importance of wearing proper equipment for the health and safety of our participants,” says Dan Schuster, NFHS director of educational services and liaison to the Ice Hockey Rules Committee.

In the world of sports, seasons come and go, as do the coaches that coach the teams and the athletes that play the sports. Other elements of sports that also change from time to time are the rules.


A new definition for a damaged bat is one of the major high school softball rules changes for the 2020 season.

A damaged bat will now be defined as a bat that was once legal, but is broken, cracked, dented, rattles or has sharp edges that might deface the ball. Previously, a damaged bat was considered an illegal bat, with the penalty being an out when the batter entered the batter’s box. Now, damaged bats are simply removed from the game without penalty and, the batter just selects another bat to use.

“This rule defines damaged bats and distinguishes them from non-approved and altered bats,” explains Sandy Searcy, NFHS director of sports and liaison to the NFHS Softball Rules Committee. “The committee clarified the course of action that should be taken when a damaged bat is discovered in the game.”

Additionally, the USA Softball All Games certification mark is now acceptable on bats. The new mark is in addition to the current ASA 2000 and ASA 2004 certification marks. Bats must bear one of these three marks and must not be listed on USA Softball’s Non-Approved Bats With Certification Marks, a list that is available on

“Bats bearing the 2000 and 2004 certification marks are still permissible, provided they meet specifications in Rule 1-5-1 and do not appear on USA Softball’s Non-Approved Bats with Certification Marks list,” adds Searcy.


Two changes provide equivalent metric increments for tiebreaking jump-offs in vertical jumps, as well as clarify distance requirements for long jump and triple jump pits. For long jump and triple jump pits constructed after 2019, the length of the pit shall be at least 23 feet (seven meters).

In cross-country, Rule 8-1-1 has been reorganized to clarify that a cross-country course may be marked with any or all methods listed in the rule.

An additional change to cross-country rules adds language regarding straightaways at the start of a course. The change provides a recommended minimum distance of 100 meters for beginning straightaways and states that no narrow section of a course should be longer than 10 feet long. Small cones of the appropriate color, at least 12 inches high, are also now permitted to be used in lieu of painted lines or survey chalk.


Under mandatory equipment, shoulder pads and chest protectors used by players must be designed for lacrosse. Additionally, goalkeepers must wear a chest protector designed for lacrosse that meets NOCSAE ND200 standard at the time of manufacture, beginning January 1, 2021, while shoulder pads for field players must incorporate the NOCSAE ND200 lacrosse standard for chest protection beginning January 1, 2022.

NOCSAE ND200 protection will be available on the market for field players and goalkeepers this fall.


Allowing players to freely move around the playing field after a whistle is one of many changes to high school girls’ lacrosse rules approved for the 2020 season. The change to free movement impacts several areas of the NFHS/USL Rules kook. Rules have been adjusted to eliminate the requirement for players to stand in place after an official’s whistle.

Free movement allows players to freely move around the playing field, instead of being required to hold their positions on stoppages.

“This will be an exciting rule change for the high school game, one which we believe will enhance the athlete experience on the field and ease the workload on officials to monitor players off the ball,” says Caitlin Kelley, US Lacrosse women’s lacrosse director and the USL liaison to the Girls Lacrosse Rules Committee. “The rules committee prioritizes safety, integrity of the game, pace of place and growth. We want our student-athletes to love the game and attract new players to the sport, too.”

As for equipment, a change states that equipment cannot be modified from its original manufactured state and it must be worn in the manner the manufacturer intended.

Another rule now requires that all eyewear worn on the playing field bear the SEI  mark for certification by January 1, 2025. Eyewear must still be SEI certified for the 2020 season. The requirement for a physical mark on the eyewear does not take effect until 2025. All approved eyewear is listed on the SEI website at

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