Statistically significant: How should tackles and assists be recorded in high school football?

One in an occasional series examining how high school football statistics should be calculated

By Mike Wilson | Photo by Leon Neuschwander

Imprecision is baked into the process of recording high school football statistics.

Few high school fields have every yard line signified by a hashmark, for example, making accurate yardage calculations close to impossible.

Even game management contributes to statistical fogginess. Who hasn’t seen, after an incomplete pass, the ball spotted what looks like a foot or so behind or beyond the line of scrimmage from the previous play?

Given that, it might be surprising to know that in high school football, tackles and assisted tackles are considered official statistics, and there are defined guidelines for how players get credit for them. It’s surprising because the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician of the NFL, doesn’t track tackles or assists.

The statisticians’ manual produced by the National Federation of State High School Associations sets forth clear boundaries for solo tackles and assists.

Not surprisingly, a solo tackle is credited when a ball carrier is stopped “solely or primarily” by the efforts of one defensive player. “No more than one solo tackle can be credited on any one play.”

If two players contribute “equally” to stopping a ball carrier, both are credited with an assisted tackle, but neither receives a solo tackle. Only in “rare instances” should more than two assisted tackles be credited on a play, and on any given play, either one solo tackle or two assisted tackles can be credited.

In other words, the manual doesn’t allow for a solo tackle and an assist (or assists) on a given play.

The same division of credit applies for tackles for loss and sacks: Either one player gets credit for a full TFL/sack, or two players each get one-half of a tackle for loss or sack.

Credit for tackles for loss and sacks (or assisted TFL and assisted sacks) also accrue to a player’s total tackles and/or assists. So, a tackle for loss counts in two categories (tackles and tackles for loss), and a sack counts in three categories (tackles, tackles for loss and sacks).

A couple of interesting notes regarding tackles:

— If a potential passer fumbles before contact by the defense, no sack is credited.

— If a player “makes an apparent attempt to pass while being chased and goes out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage,” credit the “primary chasing player” with the solo sack, solo tackle for loss and solo tackle.

In official scoring for baseball, there is a step called “proving the box score” that ensures, roughly speaking, that a team’s total of plate appearances matches the sum of all possible outcomes for those plate appearances. In football, a similar system could be used.

The sum of solo tackles and one-half of the sum of assisted tackles should roughly equal the sum of the opposing offense’s running plays and completed passes minus the offense’s touchdowns — roughly equivalent because scrimmage plays can end without a tackle, including a lost fumble and an interception, and there are tackles on special teams plays.

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