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NCHSAA implements mercy rule

By RYAN HERMAN
Sports Editor

High school football coaches have long had the option to mutually agree to a continuously running clock if a game gets too out of hand, and thanks to the NCHSAA they now have the option to quit.
All four Lincoln County head coaches are in agreement that quitting isn’t an option.
The board of directors of the state’s largest governing body of high school athletics on Wednesday voted on and approved a list of changes for the upcoming school year, and among them was a mercy rule for football.
The new rule states there will be an automatic running clock when the point difference reaches at least 42 at halftime or beyond. The clock will stop only for scores and timeouts called by the teams or due to injury.
That’s fine, and the majority of high school coaches agree, since it already happens albeit it hasn’t been mandatory in past seasons. But the second half of the rule is where coaches are drawing the line.
“I don’t mind a running clock. That’s acceptable. I’ve been on both sides of that ballgame. I have no problem with that,” said Lincoln County’s longest-tenured head coach, Lincolnton coach Scott Cloninger. “What I have a problem with is quitting. At Lincolnton High School, we’re never going to do that.
“You learn a lot more about yourself when you lose than when you win. It’s a life lesson.”
In essence the NCHSAA opened a nice-sized can of worms with its new rule.
A small group of coaches from across the state, which included Cloninger, met and voted on part of the rule –– the running-clock part. But the option to halt a game was never agreed on, Cloninger said.
When games turn into blowouts –– there were four games played by Lincoln County teams last season where the final margin of victory was 42 points or greater –– coaches generally elect to play their backups, both the team that’s leading by six touchdowns or the one that’s six scores behind. In the athletics world that’s known as sportsmanship.
To East Lincoln head coach Mike Byus, sportsmanship is something that can’t be legislated –– coaches are going to play who they want to play, regardless of whether the clock is running or not.
For those who elect to sub out their starters, the backups are having game time taken away by forcing the clock to continuously run.
“I think it’s probably going to affect the kids who don’t get to play as much. It’s going to take their time,” Byus said. “I don’t know what (the NCHSAA’s) overall intent was, but I don’t think you can legislate sportsmanship. If somebody’s going to be a good sport, they’re going to be. If they’re not, they’re not going to be.”
Byus was part of two of the four games last season where the new rule would have come into effect. The Mustangs defeated West Caldwell 68-7 on homecoming, and handed Maiden a 42-0 defeat that essentially gave them the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference title.
In both games Byus played his backups extensively.
“I haven’t talked to anyone who said this should have been done. And 42’s not the magic number,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is the team that’s ahead, if they’re substituting. If the team that’s behind is substituting and the team that’s ahead is not, then that’s poor sportsmanship.”
Byus did say under “extreme extenuating circumstances” he’d opt to stop a game, such as depth problems due to a significant amount of injuries, and North Lincoln head coach David Maness said he might consider it if his team is on the losing end and his opponent is unwilling to let its foot off the gas.
But their wish is they never have to make that decision.
“I think (stopping the game) would be bad. I think the running clock is something that is a necessity. You would hope that most coaches would (choose to continue to play),” Maness said.
“You may think about (stopping the game), then, as a means of protecting your kids. Again, I think the opportunity is there for some youngsters to get to play.”
Like most coaches, West Lincoln coach Tom Sain has been on the losing and winning side of a game that would now be affected by the mercy rule. But quitting is sending the wrong message to the players and fans, he feels.
“I am not for quitting. You only get to play varsity football one game a week,” Sain said. “I understand the running clock, and I’ve been in that situation before. But to call a game off because of a mercy rule? The kids work hard and practice hard all week and deserve to play. I don’t think any coach would want to stop a game early. And the fans, too. People come to support to teams.”
Added Cloninger: “If you can finish at halftime, there will be some who will ask for their money back.”
When on the receiving end of a blowout, teams generally use the remaining game time to work on things, which is another reason not to stop the game.
“To quit at halftime? I don’t agree with that. There are players that could get in some playing time. We’re going to play. We’re going to keep playing. You work to hard all week, and players put in too much work throughout the week,” Sain said.
“Being optimistic, you can always get better. Even if the scoreboard is not in your favor.”
The NCHSAA also approved a mercy rule for basketball. If the score reaches a 40-point difference at halftime or thereafter, the game will resort to a running clock. The clock will only stop when a timeout is called.
Other approved items of note:
––Approved dropping the pod system of seeding in all sports for 1A schools.
––Approved a 23-game regular season limit for volleyball.
––Approved state association adoption to allow conferences to have shootouts in regular season soccer matches after the two 10-minute overtime periods.
––Approved clarification that, “once the seeding process is completed and the brackets have been finalized, no other team or individual will be substituted in or added to the brackets as a result of a change in the reported record (incorrect or adjusted).”

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