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Prep football: Ohio football mercy rule adopted for 2014 season

By DAVE HANNEMAN
STAFF WRITER

Knowing when to call off the dogs in one-sided football games has always been an in-game decision for officials and coaches.

This year, that decision may be predetermined.

A “mercy rule” for high school football was approved last week by the OHSAA Board of Directors. An official announcement detailing the ruling is expected today.

“The NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) gives states the ability to have a point differential rule by state adoption,” said Beau Rugg, an assistant commissioner with the OHSAA who is that organization’s administrator for football.

“The NFHS rules committee is concerned with the length of games and we had some very lopsided results in recent years. Having this rule lets the coaches concentrate on their coaching without having to think about shortening quarters in lopsided games.”

Under the “mercy rule” a running clock would come into play in the second half whenever a team has at least a 30-point lead.

According to Rugg, the idea of implementing a mercy rule has been around for awhile.

“We (my Director of Officiating Development and me) have been looking at this for two years,” Rugg said. “I ran it by the (Ohio High School Football) Coaches Association last winter and our OHSAA Board at two meetings (January and February) for input.”

According to Rugg, player safety was also a concern in games where one team was obviously over matched.

Many states have used some form of mercy rule for some time. And while Ohio has not had an official ruling on the books, there have been instances, by mutual agreement, where teams have shortened lopsided games.

Joe Kirkendall, former football coach at Leipsic who will be taking over the Patrick Henry program this fall, is well aware of the process.

“They had it in Indiana when we went there last year, and it did make the second half go much quicker,” Kirkendall said of a 53-8 Leipsic victory over Edinburgh, Ind. that had a shortened second half.

“For the most part, I get why they are doing it, with lopsided scores and the potential for injury. It also might cause less tension between coaches if there has been a history of lopsided scores.”

Kirkendall offers an interesting coaches perspective to the mercy rule issue.

“I guess I can understand where it is coming and how it is needed, but at the same time I can see what some concerns will be,” he said. “From the perspective of teams losing, some coaches look at this as less time for their kids to play, and they want to play those guys as much as they can. And for teams that are successful it is nice to get your JV kids experience on a Friday night.”

Ottawa-Glandorf coach Ken Schriner, a 19-year veteran of the sidelines, offers and interesting point/counter point look at the mercy rule.

Concerns for teams in the lead, he says, include: being unable to work on “game situations” with a shortened format and being unable to give underclassmen, future starters, as much of an opportunity to “see action under the lights.”

Teams on the short end, he feels, might sense “further embarrassment by running the clock,” and take on a can’t-win, defeatist attitude.

“I want our kids to continue to fight,” no matter the score, he said.

The unofficial system that has been used should be enough, Schriner says.

“If coaches can agree (along with officials) then make it available,” Schriner said.

“I also don’t know if a 30-point rule is good enough. We have seen some crazy scoring throughout the years. With some of these high powered offenses, who knows ….”

Most everyone agrees the mercy rule will be reviewed, analyzed and evaluated during and after the 2014 season.

“There are concerns (both pro and con),” Kirkendall said. “Ask me my opinion in a year, and I may have a more definitive one.”

Hanneman: 419-427-8408,
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