New flag football rules raise flags

No-contact blocking upsets students

As this season's intramural flag football season begins, some AU players are opposing a new rulebook imposed by intramural officials.

The new rules, documented in a 104-page book, are the official rules of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association, an organization viewed as the governing body of intramural athletics at many campuses across the country according to Tim Landers, Director of Intramural and Club Sports at AU.

Landers, in his first year as director, decided to impose the new rulebook to prevent some of the injuries and fights that he was told by predecessors had occurred in previous seasons, he said.

Soon after the changes were announced, intramural player and AU junior Anthony Sokolowski began petitioning against the rule changes.

Sokolowski, also a former intramural referree, garnered about 200 signatures in only four hours of petitioning on the Quad, though he only allowed students who had already played an intramural season to sign, he said.

Technically, the petition has no power, but it has drawn notice from Landers, who has met in person with Sokolowski to hear his concerns.

Students have reacted unfavorably to some of the changes stipulated by NIRSA - most notably the elimination of full-contact blocking on the line of scrimmage.

"Blocking is now called screen blocking," Landers said. "There's always going to be some contact in flag football, but the NIRSA version tries to avoid contact in blocking and rules on advantage/disadvantage."

In short, the old blocking mirrored line blocking in full-contact football. Now, linemen will be expected to block much in the same way basketball players set screens, by beating defenders to a spot rather than pushing them down.

The NIRSA rules were implemented to establish concrete standards for officials and to reduce danger to athletes, Landers said.

"The old brand had no standard set of rules," Landers said. "There were rules, but not a 104-page rulebook that's been edited 11 times."

However, students are not just concerned about the rule changes, but the method in which the changes were made.

"I'm pretty biased to our old system of play," Sokolowski said. "It was pretty unique, and I've grown with it in the intramural program. It's upsetting to me that the rule change was so drastic and so sudden."

Fraternity teams, which begin preparing for the season weeks in advance, weren't notified of the rule change early enough, Sokolowski said. Sokolowski saw the rule changes posted online during the first week of the semester, and then approached Landers about the changes. Landers told him he was the first to do so, Sokolowski said.

Athletes opposed to the rule change believe officials will have difficulty navigating the new rulebook, Sokolowski said. In intramural sports - not only football, but most AU intramural programs - student workers possessing varying levels of experience officiate games. Landers, meanwhile, said he thinks the more concrete standard will ultimately help officials.

Landers pushed the start of the fraternity division season back one week in order to hold a managers meeting to clarify the rule change. But Sokolowski wishes more had been done.

"Last year, (they) had a town meeting for all participants in intramurals," Sokolowski said. "I would like to see the department defend their rule change in that sort of setting. I think the student body would have a lot more respect for the change."

Though mumblings that some fraternity teams will forfeit all their games have traversed through campus, both Landers and Sokolowski expect the Greek season to start this weekend. Meanwhile, other divisions commenced their seasons on Wednesday at the Tenley campus field.

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