Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mercy Rule Changes May Shorten Friday Nights
June 12, 2014 by Jamie Ward | No Comments

""Society continues to find subtle ways to remove lessons on losing, struggle, failure and disappointment from our kids' lives." Mitch Hewitt

Out of concern for player safety, high school football games will implement a mercy rule next season, speeding up games like blow-out football games where the point differential is 30 points or more.

While high school football games could always be shortened by mutual agreement of both head coaches, it was rarely, if ever, done in Geauga County. The state-champion Kirtland Hornets, for instance, beat Newbury,?Cardinal and?Berkshire last season by scores of 56-0, 63-20 and 54-0, respectively.

“First and foremost, this was proposed out of concern for player safety,” said Beau Rugg, the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s assistant commissioner in charge of officiating. “Lopsided games aren’t good for anybody. The risk of injury goes up and it can be a tense situation for coaches and players. The length of games is also a topic of conversation at the national level. This is just the right thing to do.”

The rule, which will apply to all levels of high school football, will look like this:

If at any point in the second half one team is beating another by 30 points or more, the clock will only stop on timeouts or a score.

Out-of-bounds plays, first downs and incomplete passes will no longer stop the clock in the second half of those lopsided games. Varsity football games play four 12-minute quarters.

If the losing team scores, bringing the differential back to under 30 points, then the normal clock rules will again apply.

While there are some concerns, most coaches think it’s a good idea.

“I’ve been at both ends of huge blowouts at various stops in my coaching career,” said Cardinal head coach Eric Cardinal, who has led the Huskies for 14 seasons. “Neither one is fun; neither helps either of the teams involved. Runaway scores are not good for the game in general.”

Cardinal also thinks it eliminates the uncomfortable decisions that leading teams have to make, like punting on second or third down or deliberately not playing hard.

He also compared the new rule to run-rules in baseball and softball.

Ledgemont coach Joe LaRosa agreeds that the new rule will help sportsmanship on the field.

“We’ve been there,” he said. “We went 1-9 last year. The kids won’t get discouraged as much. The kids won’t get beat up.”

LaRosa has also had teams that did the beating, like in 2010 and 2011, when his team went 20-0 in the regular season. LaRosa often pulled his best players in the first half of those games.

“You have to do those things,” he said. “But some coaches don’t think that way. They want the big stats. You have to worry about the safety of the kids.”

Kenston’s coach Jeff Grubich thinks it’s a good thing because it makes the game safer. But he also feels that the time cut out of the fall should be applied in the spring, which Grubich said will help keep players safe.

Currently, coaches can work with up to four players at a time in the spring; Grubich agrees with other coaches in the state, who would like to see them work with an unlimited number of players in the spring.

There are other views of the rule change, however, based on how the rule will affect playing time for underclassmen and the types of lessons learned in one-sided games.

Lou Cirino, the West Geauga coach, thinks blowouts have helped his team learn valuable lessons, like in 2012, when the Wolverines lost to South and Aurora by scores of 41-7 and 33-6, respectively.

“It helped us because the kids below decided to either quit or make a change,” he said. “Pain instructs. It’s probably why we had a good 2013 season.”

The Wolverines have also blown out opponents, and Cirino thinks the younger players who work hard in practice want to go out on Friday and play, too.

“We are only guaranteed 10 games in a season,” he said. “Why shorten it?”

And there are lessons to be learned in losses, thinks Chardon coach Mitch Hewitt.

“Having been on the end of blow-out wins and blow-out losses, I?can see why some would want to implement a running clock, especially when dealing with high school athletes,” Hewitt said.

“On the other hand, with pay to participate up and playing time already difficult to find for some kids, the implementation of a running clock only makes it more difficult to get kids in games — specifically younger kids,” he continued.

Hewitt thinks coaches know when to “pull off throttle” in games that get out of hand. And while he’s not supportive of it, it does not surprise him.

“Society continues to find subtle ways to remove lessons on losing, struggle, failure and disappointment from our kids’ lives, which in my opinion is the greatest part about what sports teaches our youth,” Hewitt said.

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