Football

Running clock approved to help lessen blowouts

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There were few rough moments last fall for the Ready High School football team as it reached a Division VI state semifinal.

One that former coach Joel Cutler wishes had been more joyous occurred when the Silver Knights beat Washington Court House 98-20 on Oct. 4.

The Knights led 56-7 at halftime and added two quick third-quarter touchdowns before their backups and special teams produced four more scores.

It was the kind of finish that might not occur as often this fall after the passage by the Ohio High School Athletic Association board of directors at its May meeting of a point-differential rule.

Beginning this fall, any time one team leads by 30 points or more in the second half, the game will be played with a running clock.

"Stuff that was not intended to get out of hand got out of hand," said Cutler, who now is the coach at Upper Arlington. "I took some grief from that (game against Washington Court House). The mercy rule would have helped get it in check. I was on the winning side, but it's almost embarrassing."

Ready's win over the Blue Lions was among many lopsided results involving central Ohio teams last fall.

In the City League-South Division, which has six schools in Divisions II or III and one in Division IV, Africentric is a Division VII program that finished 0-10 overall and 0-7 in the league last fall and has lost 21 consecutive games.

The Nubians lost back-to-back league contests to Independence and Columbus South by scores of 72-0 on Oct. 11 and 70-0 on Oct. 18, respectively.

Beechcroft defeated Linden-McKinley 81-6 in a City-North contest Sept. 27 and Independence beat Briggs 84-8 on Oct. 4 in City-South play.

Blowouts involving teams of similar size also occurred when Millersport lost to fellow Division VII, Region 25 foes Grove City Christian 67-0 on Oct. 25 and Harvest Prep 54-0 on Nov. 1.

A lopsided score even between big-school rivals took place when Pickerington North led Pickerington Central 49-7 at halftime and won 49-14 on Oct. 4.

"We had a couple games last year that were 98-10 or maybe 89-12, and there was a rule in place that they could shorten the game if both coaches mutually agreed," OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross said. "Sometimes (the opposing coaches) don't agree. There are some states that already have been doing something like this. This is one that it'll be good to see how it works."

According to a study done in 2012 by the National Federation of State High School Associations, 34 states have some sort of point-differential rule in place and 20 states have rules that can end a game early.

"I'm all for (the new rule)," Reynoldsburg coach Buddy White said. "In the second half if you're getting beat by 30 points, get it under 30. I want to tell my second- and third-teamers to execute. If we get up that bad, we're going to empty the bench."

The point-differential regulation is permitted by state adoption, according to the NFHS. The proposal was recommended to the OHSAA board of directors after more than a year of consultation with the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association.

Unlike changes to bylaws, which require a vote of member schools, changes to sport-specific regulations only need approval from the OHSAA board of directors.

According to the new regulation, the only time the clock can stop if the point differential is 30 or more in the second half is after a charged timeout, at the end of the third quarter, when a score occurs or because of an official's timeout called either for an injured player or following a change of possession.

If the differential drops below 30 points, the clock will revert to regular timing.

One concern for some coaches is that backups will have fewer opportunities to play. Although many teams play junior varsity and freshman games the next day, those coaches believe the extra Friday night reps are important in building a program.

"I'm not a fan of the new mercy rule being implemented here in Ohio, especially with the second-half margin being set at 30," said Hilliard Davidson coach Brian White, whose team won six games by more than 30 points last fall, including two in the Division I playoffs. "I would be much more in favor of the rule had it been set at 35, but nobody asked me.

"You are limiting the opportunity for second- and third-team players to get the opportunity to play on Friday night, for either team. I don't believe in the idea that it's for the safety of the players. What makes a kid more prone to injury in the second half of a 30-0 game than the fourth quarter of a 7-6 game? ... I believe with this rule, you take away the opportunity for coaches to show integrity, or lack of in some cases."

Granville coach J.R. Wait believes it should be the coaches' call regarding whether to go with a running clock.

"Coaches are reasonable," Wait said. "I have never heard of a coach making (a running clock request) in the second half of a game and being denied by the other coach. I have heard of games that were blowouts getting much tighter in the third and fourth quarters. Momentum can make things interesting. I've been on both sides of those lopsided scores as a player and a coach, and mandating this seems like an overreach to me."

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