A few years ago, I was covering a baseball game when a play at home plate generated a small amount of controversy (like that never happens). Someone in the stands wasn't quite sure what occurred, and asked me to explain.
The questions were whether there was a tag as the runner slid into the plate, and whether the catcher committed interference by blocking the plate before he was in possession of the ball. The fan questioned why the second issue would matter - and the answer was, because the rules say so.
Or, more accurately, they said so as of the beginning of that season. The National Federation of High School Sports - which creates rules that generally are adopted by most state agencies with scholastic sports oversight, including the PIAA - clarified rules concerning interference in baseball, and that included a policy that the catcher could not try to impede the runner coming into the plate unless the catcher was in possession of the ball at the time (and presumably trying to make a tag).
I was reminded of this by some feedback I received after a recent comment in our Open Line - one we seem to get at the beginning of almost every football season.
The caller expressed a belief that one of our local high school teams was in violation of PIAA rules by holding practices prior to the first legal date to do so, which for fall sports this year was Aug. 16. But what appears to be a practice may not be - at least, not in the eyes of the sports governing body.
It is legal for members of a football team to work out together out of season if the activity is not mandatory, for example. Coaches may be present, but they may not run the practice as they would one that occurs in season. In fact, as one coach pointed out to me, it's even legal for players to wear pads and helmets in such pre-preseason activities.
The PIAA has gone so far as to post a training video on its web site, "Acceptable Non-Physical Contact Drills Outside of the PIAA-Defined Football Season," to help teams stay within the rules.
This is one area where fans often get themselves in trouble - they think they know the rules, but are not up on the latest changes. This fall, for example, the rules for substitution in soccer have changed in certain situations, and another rule change concerning uniforms has been announced, although it won't go into effect for two years.
The soccer rules also have clarified the requirements for a player with a cast, which was an issue at a game I covered last year. Now, the rule is clear what is required for a player wearing a cast to take part in the game, and there can be no anger on a coach's - or parent's - part if their son or daughter is not in compliance and is forced to sit out.
Other modifications in the past year include the legalization of "signal armbands" (essentially, wristbands with a note sheet) for softball players, and a mandate that public address announcers uphold the PIAA's sportsmanship rules - that is, the home announcer cannot be part of the home team.
The coach I spoke to offered this advice, and I second it: If you want to file a complaint about someone not observing the rules, make sure you know the rules yourself.
Speaking of change: During Friday's trip to York County for Juniata's football season opener, the topic of the girls soccer season came up in a conversation.
There are 100 schools in District 3 - and 186 in the state - that continue to hold girls soccer as a spring sport. About 2/3 of the state plays girls soccer in the fall, and the PIAA declared that all the teams will have to move to the fall beginning in 2012.
I've had my doubts about this, first because the mandate originally was set for this year, and it was moved ahead two years at the behest of District 3, which is one of the two largest - and most powerful - in the state. A Northeastern official tells me that, with or without the PIAA, girls soccer will continue to be a spring sport in York County, and he predicts elsewhere.
If that's the case, it won't be the first sport without the organization's blessing - a handful of sports already are played outside the PIAA, including two in which local schools participate (bowling and indoor track).
We'll find out in 2012.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.