Former Rifle coach key figure in official football sideline rule
Citizen Telegram Sports Editor
Chris Cline didn’t hesitate to step up and do something following an incident between the Rifle and Fort Morgan high school football teams in November of last season. Then again, he also had the interest of his own team in mind.
“This really stems from the incident in the Rifle and Fort Morgan game,” said Cline, a 1982 graduate of Rifle High School who is now the football coach and athletic director at Elizabeth High School in Elizabeth. “At least now it’s a case where there will be something in writing.”
That writing came on Dec. 9, 2014, when Cline made a proposal to the Colorado High School Activities Association to clarify the sideline boundaries for football games. That rule came as a result of a volunteer videographer from Rifle-based Align Multimedia stepping into Fort Morgan’s coach’s box on the sidelines during Rifle’s eventual 35-7 victory over the Mustangs in the Class 3A semifinals on Nov. 22, 2014, which sent the Bears to their second state championship game in three years.
“In the past, there were never really any boundaries. I think it was just understood where the boundaries were and that the box is the box. At least we have something in place now,” Cline said.
Rule or not, CHSAA has placed Rifle’s football program on restriction for the 2015 season, meaning that the team is not eligible for the postseason. But the school can get off of restrictive status by showing that the infraction won’t happen again.
Cline, who was a Rifle coach and teacher from 1993-2000, has been at Elizabeth — which plays in the Colorado 7 League with Fort Morgan — for the past 15 years. He said he made the proposal during CHSAA’s yearly football committee meeting in Aurora in December, and the rule was officially passed in January during the association’s legislative meeting.
The proposal imposes a boundary on the sideline during football games that prevents anyone other than team personnel from entering the coach’s box, which spans the sideline from one 25-yard line to the other. It also allows for a five-yard buffer from the end of the box to the 20-yard line for each sideline, keeping a safe distance between media members and fans and players during the game.
It’s a rule that’s very similar to college football, where boundaries for sideline media are clearly marked on the field, and game personnel guard the lines passionately. No such luxury is typical in high school football, however.
Typically, media members from television and newspaper affiliates have crossed boundaries countless times over the years. Cline said he can remember many times when small-town newspaper writers would squeeze in between his players to get a photo and, in their haste to follow the action after a big play, bolt across the box past — and through — players to get to the potential stopping point.
And with even more media following a state semifinal game, emotions can run high.
“I think a lot of this is simply about confusion,” Cline said. “I know [the videographer], and [Fort Morgan officials] saw an ear piece in and didn’t quite understand what was going on.”
The videographer was taking footage for Align, which for years has shot video footage and made highlight videos of Rifle High’s football games. Fort Morgan’s athletic director, Kyle Bules, told The Citizen Telegram he had asked the videographer five times to leave the sideline before the videographer complied.
Since the rule will be statewide, everyone will have to adhere to the new rule. It won’t be as simple as it is in college football where the boundaries are painted on the sidelines, especially since many high school football fields have tracks surrounding them. With that, many schools will likely rope off the boundaries between players and media members.
One thing is for certain, though: It will be clear where any media members are allowed to be.
“Now that this is in place, there won’t be a grey area anymore,” Cline said.
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