Wednesday, May 8, 2019 6:00 AM
Football is a different sport than any other.It’s the only sport where manhood is challenged. It’s the only one where assault is not only permissible, it’s the whole point. It is physical, it is primal, and those who play it consider themselves a different breed of person — and they are correct.Not everyone can play football, and not everyone should play football.There is very little that’s more fun to watch that two football teams that are evenly matched. Maybe only when those teams are bitter rival rivals could it get better.But the opposite is true when two teams could not be more mismatched.When you have been covering sports as long as I have, you are going to see games where the score gets out of hand. I feel fortunate that I can only remember a handful of games where you wished there had been rules in place to make the game end faster.There has been a public clamoring for some sort of rule structure to address football games where the losing team has no reasonable chance of coming back to win.Last week, they got their wish.The IHSAA Executive Committee, working directly with the leadership of the Indiana Football Coaches Association, passed a “mercy rule.”The new rule says that when one team leads another by 35 points or more after halftime, a “running clock” will be used from that point until the game ends. According to the verbiage of the rule, the only things that would stop the clock would be timeouts, scoring plays or injuries.All other things that would stop the clock normally — first downs, incomplete passes, etc. — won’t anymore.It also should be noted that once the rule kicks in, it cannot be undone. So, if team A is ahead 35-0 at halftime, the officials will inform both teams that the mercy rule is in effect and the running clock will start with the next snap of the ball. If team B runs the kickoff back for a score, the running clock stays in effect even though the margin is under 35 again.And the coaches and officials on the field have no power to override the rule. There is no wiggle room. There won’t be any sweet-talking or strong-arming anyone. That clock is going to run until it runs out.The IHSAA had no choice here. It is using every opportunity to promote sportsmanship and positive attitudes from all involved with high school sports, and 70-0 football scores on Friday nights don’t fit that model. Which, by the way, is not to say that winning a football game 70-0 should automatically be considered an unsportsmanlike act. Pioneer is as classy a football program as there is in Indiana, and this mercy rule would have applied in 14 of their 15 games on their way to the 1A state title last season, including the championship game.Now, there are old-school types who broke out in a rash when the mercy rule was announced. They see this rule as another example of how society is softening at the expense of the development of the young, male members of our communities.But when the score of a football game gets out of hand, that sense of pride football gives a kid can betray him. No one has anything more to prove, there is nothing more for anyone to gain. No one ever wants anyone to get hurt, but doesn’t it make it all the worse when that season-ending injury happens with 5 minutes left in a 56-0 game? The new mercy rule won’t eliminate that risk, but with a running game clock and a 40-second play clock, the chance of it happening is greatly diminished.The only real down side I see to this is that a running clock will shorten the opportunity for JV kids to get some Friday night experience. At smaller schools where rosters are smaller, that may not be the worst thing either.I don’t have a strong opinion on using 35 as the margin in which the mercy rule begins. In high school football, more mistakes are possible and so a comeback of that magnitude would be more possible. Of course, if you are down by 35, it probably didn’t happen by a series of bad breaks and unlucky bounces. In my own head, I had 42 as the number. I am sure the IFCA didn’t have its president, John Barron, (the head coach at Plymouth) throw a dart at a board and let that be the margin they chose.And you have to understand that 35 isn’t forever — it’s a starting point. The IHSAA will likely let this be the law of the land for two or three years and then re-evaluate it. Maybe they put in a rider that says that if team B gets with 21 points in the second half, the mercy rule would be lifted. Maybe they update it to say that if the margin gets to be 49 at any point in the game, the game ends at the end of the third quarter, or immediately if it’s already the third quarter.Or maybe they got it just right from the start. As much as some of you might not want to, you must trust the IHSAA to give this concept a fair trial. They need to see it work for a while before they start messing with it.And believe me, it will be used.
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